Christmastide offers us an opportunity to refocus, reset, and continue on in praise of Christ’s birth on earth and the chain of events.
Christmastide, also known as Twelvetide, is commonly recognized by the popular carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” There are many traditional ways Christians of all denominations celebrate Christ’s birth on earth. As we seek to discover a little piece of the rich history in some of these celebrations, we cannot lose site of the real meaning of Christmas.
The apostle Matthew quoted the prophet Micah's revelation regarding Jesus’ birthplace. Matthew, and the other apostles who recorded Christ’s coming, connected many Old Testament prophecies to Jesus’ birth in order to emphasize He was indeed the expected Messiah. The Christmas story, in all its grandiose miraculous triumph and humble circumstance, is real. God’s plan from the beginning was to rescue His children.
Christmas is a celebration for all of us whom Jesus came to save.
What Is Christmastide and When Is It?
Christmastide is more commonly known as the 12 Days of Chrismas. It begins on Christmas Day, December 25th, and ends twelve days later. Most Christ-following denominations mark the end of the celebratory season on the celebration of the Epiphany.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a popular carol celebrates the Christmas season. Though not all historians agree, Catholic scholars confirm the carol to be a coded message in celebration of Christmastide during the oppression of the Catholic church.
The Editorial Staff for christianity.com explain the symbolism of each day:
1. A partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, the Son of God
2. two turtledoves signify the Old and the New Testaments
3. three french hens mean faith, hope and love
4. four calling birds stand for the four Gospels
5. five gold rings mean the Torah, also called the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament
6. six geese-a-laying represents the six days of creation
7. seven swans-a-swimming symbolize spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit
8. eight maids-a-milking speaks to the Beatitudes, and Christ as Savior for all
9. nine ladies dancing are the fruits of the spirit
10. ten lords-a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments
11. eleven pipers piping symbolize the twelve apostles, minus Judas
12. twelve drummers drumming represents the twelve points of doctrine in the Catholic Apostle’s Creed.
What Holidays Are during Christmastide?
The Twelve Days of Christmas begin with Christmas Day. The following day Christians celebrate St. Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen. One of the first of seven bishops appointed to lead the early church, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is recognized for his generosity towards the poor. “Through Stephen’s example,” Hope Bollinger explains, “we can learn to speak boldly for our faith, and know that our lives here on earth cannot compare with the joys we’ll experience in heaven.” Before Stephen was stoned to death, Luke wrote, “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56). The Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas,” is adapted from a poem commemorating the holiday of St. Stephen.
The apostle John (St. John the Evangelist) is celebrated on December 27th, and on the 28th the children lost in the massacre under King Herod are remembered. It is called the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Christmastide concludes with the celebration of the Epiphany. The Epiphany, also known in some places as “Three Kings Day,” celebrates the arrival of the three kings that followed the Christmas star to visit Jesus after His birth on earth. Though the manger scene traditionally includes the Magi, historically they are though to have arrived many days after Jesus’ birth.
There are other holidays celebrated during, though not associated with, Christmastide. New Years Eve and New Years Day are celebrated in most countries around the world on December 31st and January 1st. The following are a few more important traditional holidays occurring alongside Christmastide.
Boxing Day, celebrated the day after Christmas in the United Kingdom and other British Commonwealth Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, commemorates the day alms were distributed to the poor. It also has roots of traditionally being the day when servants of the household received Christmas gifts (bonuses). Today, the holiday is celebrated with sports events and visiting friends and family.
Kwanzaa is an important week-long celebration to honor African American culture beginning on December 26th, with an African feast held on December 31st. First inaugurated in 1966 after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Maulana Karenga “searched for ways to bring African Americans together as a community.” A candle is lit each night of Kwanzaa, commonly by a child, to represent the community-building values of African American culture.
Do Christians Celebrate Christmastide?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Christmastide is celebrated by Christians not just to commemorate Christ’s birth on earth, but for the overarching reason for which He came. Incarnation refers to the coming of Jesus into the world in the form of a human baby. Jesus, the Word with God in the beginning, through whom all things were made, brought His light down to earth in the form of human life. He walked with us, though many didn’t recognize Him. But those who received and believed Jesus for who He was were given adoption into the family of God through salvation in Christ.
“They are important because they give us a way of reflecting on what the Incarnation means in our lives,” Jennifer Woodruff Tait wrote. “Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history – the entry of God into the world he made, in the form of a baby.” Christmastide is just as important to celebrate as the anticipatory season of Advent leading up to Christmas Day and Jesus’ birth. Without this day, perfectly orchestrated by our great God to quench all of our doubts and curiosities about who Jesus really was, we would remain bound by sin and doomed to suffer its deathly consequences.
3 Reasons to Observe Christmastide
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
1. We Are Made to Glorify God
Christmastide allows us the opportunity to bring glory to God by focusing on His defining meaning for the Christmas season. God loved us so much, as John was divinely inspired to write in his gospel, He gave His one and only Son (John 3:16). This powerful truth, which defines and refines the heart of every Christ follower, didn’t begin on the cross. It didn’t begin on Christmas, either. Jesus was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made. He knows us, intimately, as the Father in heaven. Jesus was there while God created our very being, individually. “Man was created from the beginning in God’s image that he might image for God’s glory,” John Piper eloquently explains.
Extending and expanding the celebration of what Jesus’ birth means on earth to us relevantly, right now, draws us closer to God. Reserve a decoration to gaze at all year long, in remembrance of the miraculous birth of the Son of God on earth, and embrace what that means for us daily. Our lives will sing of the glory of God when we intentionally seek to see His hand in all of our days.
2. Jesus Is a Savior for All
Luke wrote in his gospel that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) This was significant, not just because God’s people were expecting much more pomp and circumstance than a baby born in a manger, but because Luke was a Gentile. He was on the outside of Jewish tradition, yet through Christ Luke learned that he, and all, were welcome to be adopted into the family of God.
“Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history- the entry of God into the world in the form of a baby,” Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait explain,” As we extend our celebration past the peak day of the holiday, we expound upon our opportunities to embrace the authentic love of Christ, for all. As we remember the life of Stephen, who gave to the poor and died for his faith, we can be inspired to help those God has placed around us by giving and sharing what we have and telling of Jesus.
3. Refocus and Reset
Christmas has undoubtably turned into an enormously commercialized holiday. The world capitalizes off of gift-giving and the ‘never enough’ mentality. Twelve days of Christmas allows us to intentionally and authentically worship Christ for His coming, long after the gift-giving and cyber sales have ended. Our faith in Christ carries us through all of our days, not just holidays.
Scripture tells us to take captive every thought. It’s easy to get caught up in the giving and the getting of the season. Gifts and blessings aren’t wrong to enjoy, but our focus on the true Giver and Provider of our lives is important. “It is not only striking in Matthew 2 that the religiously uncouth magi are seeking to worship the newborn Jewish king, but that the religious leaders of the day are not,” David Mathis highlights, “The pagan astrologers bow their knee, but the Jerusalem religious bow their back.” As we give glory to God, we reset our hearts, guarding them from the danger of slipping into the commercial coma the season beckons us to consider. While we enjoy all the season has to offer, it’s important to stay focused on and motivated by Christ.
Christmastide offers us an opportunity to refocus, reset, and continue on in praise of Christ’s birth on earth and the chain of events—anticipated and prophesied for hundreds of years and many generations—which were set in motion. It’s a time for us to dig into Scripture and really seek to see the many layers of the Christmas story, told from beginning to end in the Bible. Christmas is the story of Christ. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is the Word, who was with God in the beginning. He is Light, Living Water, and Savior Messiah. During the Twelve Days of Christmas, let’s desire to know Him more, and love those around us better. He is a Savior for all, and His greatest command was to love God, and one another.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Oleg Elkov
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as a freelance writer, blogger at Sunny&80, and author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” and “Glory Up, The Everyday Pursuit of Praise,” and “Home, Finding Our Identity in Christ.” She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters …which led her to pursue her passion to write. A member of Faith Church in Sandusky, OH, she serves as Communications Director and leads Bible studies for women and teen girls. Meg is a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, living by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.