THE TWELVE DAYS
So bright is the radiance of the Light which has come at Christmas, so awesome is the mystery we celebrate, that a single day's observance barely initiates us into the meaning of the feast. Nor does the Church consider stopping with one day's rejoicing as she celebrates the birth of the Savior. Although the commercial world is taking down its trees and tinsel on December 26 to make way for the January white sales, the Church is only beginning a full twelve days of "high feasting" which will reach their climax and zenith on January 6. Then, in the regal splendor of Epiphany, we see another facet of the Incarnation, a facet which completes the Christmas mystery: the tiny Baby born on Christmas night is in reality the King of the whole world. All the expressions of our Advent longing, our pleas for the King and Ruler, "God, the Mighty, Wonderful, the Prince of Peace," may seem extravagant if we keep only December 25 as a feast day and forget the Epiphany, the real fulfillment of Advent expectation for a royal and kingly Savior.
Each year, then, Christians are given two great feast days plus the full season of Christmastide during which the Church would have us savor the mystery of the Incarnation in all its implications. She wants us to absorb it through study and meditation, to re-live it through her liturgy, and finally to begin to make it a part of our everyday lives--so that the Light of Christ which has been given to us may shine out to all those around us--to our family, our neighborhood, our associates in school or office, and out into the larger communities of national and international life.
Today Catholics are becoming increasingly interested in celebrating the Christmas season more fully--not only as completely as possible at the altar--but in their homes and communities, and in the apostolic and parish groups to which they may belong. They feel that through carrying out customs and observances centered in the liturgy, they will be able to penetrate more deeply into the meaning of the Incarnation.
Those who have begun to observe the Advent season as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas will be especially interested in a plan for celebrating The Twelve Days. To prolong the celebration of a feast in a fitting way is almost as much of an art as to prepare for it. Mother Church takes our human nature into account when she gives us an Advent season followed not only by twelve days of high feasting but a whole season extending to February 2, the Feast of Candlemas.
It is in answer to the need for concrete suggestions for the celebration of Christmastide that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is presented. This book tries to capture something of the fullness of the Christmas season as it is observed at Grailville and in an increasing number of young families with whom we are in contact. Some of the sources for these ideas and customs are original--life lived with the Church is dynamic, and forms of recreation and festivity begin to develop spontaneously with the liturgy as their source and inspiration. We have also built on many national traditions in our Christmas celebration--but most of them could truly be called "international," for the same customs keep recurring with slight variations in many different cultures. Many of the observances have already been assimilated to American family and community life in some sections of the country. All are capable of being adapted to the American scene.
Because this is meant to be something other than a "Christmas in many lands" book, there are few lengthy histories of those customs which originate in other countries. Instead the booklet tries to describe the vital, concrete, practical observances which have grown up naturally in the life of the large Grailville family, and are being used successfully in the smaller families of former students now married, and in parish and apostolic groups throughout the country.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas Book and Kit" are intended to give you ideas for your own fuller, more meaningful celebration of the Christmas season. May you be inspired to translate and adapt some of these suggestions to your own circumstances. May whatever you choose to do spring from a firm, enlightened inner conviction and the fire of love without which even the most meaningful Christmas customs can degenerate into mere "show." And may the observances lead you and yours to a greater understanding and a deeper penetration of the great Christian mysteries which the customs represent in word and symbol and song.
COME REJOICING FAITHFUL MEN, WITH GLADNESS SINGING ALLELUIA! MONARCHS' MONARCH FROM A HOLY MAIDEN SPRINGING MIGHTY WONDER!
--St. Bernard's Nativity Sequence
Christmas is the intimate family feast. As families re-unite to observe the birth of Christ, celebrations and activities are naturally centered in the home. The customs and religious practices given here for the first days of Christmas are, therefore, intended mainly for the home and family.
But with Epiphany, the feast of Christ's manifestation and showing-forth, we will go out from the circle of the family to show forth the light we have received to all those around us. Suggestions will be given for the observance of the feast of Epiphany in the parish and community, the school and the apostolic group, as well as in the home.