The 12 Days of Christmas: A Brief Rant

Yesterday, my children came home from Primary with a handout listing scriptures to read on each of the 12 days of Christmas, beginning December 14. This irritates me mightily. The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, and extend until January 6, when the season of Epiphany begins. December 14-24 properly belong to the season of Advent.

A little knowledge of the Christian calendar would help Mormons understand the rest of the Christian world better, and would also help to center our lives around religiously meaningful markers of time, rather than American cultural markers largely designed to increase material consumption.

That is all. Thank you for your attention.


  1. As long as we are ranting about things that irk us about Christmas, why are we celebrating Christ’s birth in December? The rest of the Christian world can dwindle in unbelief for all I care–but I would prefer wassail with my peeps.

    Also, in keeping with this post and the one preceding it . . . why don’t primary teachers prepare better lessons. If we tied compensation to performance we would probably get better results. I know, I’m dreaming–the primary teachers union will never let that happen. The church should provide vouchers to primary kids.

  2. Maybe they couldn’t thing of 25 scriptures for a full advent calender?

  3. Prudence McPrude says:

    But what does any of this have to do with my eternal salvation?

  4. Kristine, I think your rant is more against American Protestantism. My anecdotal experience is that many commercial American Advent calendars specify that they are to be used starting on Dec 1 or Dec 14. I think (at least the low church) Protestants really wanted to divorce themselves from most of Catholic hagiolatry and mysticism. American Mormons are just along for the ride.

  5. Advent calendars and 12 days of Christmas are different animals. It’s true, though, that Advent calendars start on Dec. 1, rather than on the first day of Advent (which moves around a bit). I’ve never seen an Advent calendar that starts on the 14th–have you?

    There’s nothing especially mystical about the calendar–I’ve been in choirs in Presbyterian and Methodist churches that observed a fairly standard liturgical calendar. But I don’t know about Baptists, and I suspect many evangelical Bible churches don’t use it. Now I might have to actually learn something about it and write a real post.

  6. Mike Parker says:

    Mathew: I would prefer wassail with my peeps.

    Peeps represent all this is unholy about Easter.

  7. op — Amen.

    6. Peeps are one of the best things about Easter that you can eat. And you can make them joust in the microwave.

  8. It certainly does come down to ‘high’ and ‘low’ churches. I grew up in a traditional Methodist (high) church and really loved the liturgical calendar. I always looked forward to advent and lent, although don’t remember doing anything special for the ‘twelve days of Christmas.’

    While I understand why Joseph and the early church broke with many of these traditions, I also must admit that I don’t see the harm in at least recognising the liturgical calendar. No, as LDS, we would never follow it as closely as the Episcopalians, Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox. But even Methodists don’t always follow it (seemed that they only followed it during Advent and Lent). The church could capitalize on these times of year by focusing sacrament meeting talks on these topics, put out special sunday school guides for these times, even issue daily scripture study guides for these seasons.

    I suppose it comes down to me missing the special significance of advent and lent that we as LDS completely ignore.

  9. Matthew,

    As long as we are ranting about things that irk us about Christmas, why are we celebrating Christ’s birth in December? The rest of the Christian world can dwindle in unbelief for all I care–but I would prefer wassail with my peeps.

    Hear! Hear! Why do we keep up this lie? Honestly, I think it would serve us better to celebrate the birth, atonement, and resurrection of Christ, which all happened on his birthday and 36 hours before.

    Or maybe sometimes Ignorance is really bliss…

  10. It was hard enough as an investigator to deal with the differences between LDS and protestant…word of wisdom, angels, gold plates, modern prophets, and ‘additional’ scripture. If the church had celebrated Christmas and Easter on different days or not at all, I probably wouldn’t have investigating at all…marking it as yet another example of those crazy Mormons that aren’t really Christians.

  11. I’m all for observing Lent, especially the Mardi Gras part of it.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m with you, Kristine. This is an abomination.

  13. The majority of Mormons do not know the tradition many Protestant Christians follow in making a Jesse tree starting near Thanksgiving and through the advent season.

    I think most Americans are ignorant that the majority of Europe celebrates on December 6th; Canada on the 26th, and that it is summer/summer school break in the southern hemisphere. It’s not all snow, Santa and mangers everywhere…

  14. So, where does the Partridge in a Pear Tree come in again?

  15. a random John says:

    Mike Parker,

    You must repent! Everybody knows that they broke out the Peeps at the last supper as soon as Judas took off.

  16. The irony here is the ignorance this very post shows of Christianity as a movement. There is no “Christian Calendar.” There are a few Roman Catholic calendars (e.g., the saints calendar and the feast calendar). Each orthodox branch of Christianity has its own set of calendars with different days (e.g., the Greek Orthodox Christmas falls on a different day). But there is no one calendar, and any casual attempt to talk about 12 days of Christmas before or after Christmas, or even on the fourth of July, is just as legitimate as the placement of Christmas itself in December.

    I think it’s a little much to post a correction to primary handout that is, itself, basically mistaken about the subject matter germane to the correction.

  17. Children care immensely about how many days it is until Christmas and not at all about how many days it has been since Christmas. I’ll bet that goes for carefully calendared Catholic children as well.

  18. John, children care about how many days it is until Christmas because they have been taught that they will get lots of presents on Christmas morning. This is not inevitable.

  19. I’ve seen a Scriptural Twelve Days of Christmas handout. Perhaps it’s the same as the one discussed here. In the context of the Ensign and the Friend, I’ve noticed that the Twelve Days of Christmas typically refers to the activity in which one anonymously leaves presents on another person’s doorstep for twelve straight days before Christmas (one present for the first day, two presents for the second day, etc.)

  20. I love advent as well as post-Christmas markers. Thanks Kristine.

  21. Kristine, the reason why the citation you provide is for the christian year is because it is altogether devoid of dates; i.e., it is not a calendar. Plus, it leaves out most of the important days in the non-Roman Catholic orthodox religions. The reason it isn’t a calendar is clear if you read the article; specifically, nobody can agree on how to count the days (i.e., Julian leap years vs. Gregorian leap years). But your beef with the primary handout is, ironically, over exactly that issue — counting days.

  22. My apologies for being a know it all but Advent starts four weeks before Christmas. It’s a little confusing because it has to begin on a Sunday. Therefore the liturgical calendar provides for a range from November 27 until December 3 for the first of Advent.

    I’m all for observing Lent, especially the Mardi Gras part of it.

    Comment by Mark IV

    Traditionalists will have a fast before Christmas beginning November 11. During the middle ages the fast included a prohibition of weddings before Christmas. May be, that’s why Sylvester and New Years became prominent wedding days.

    I am somewhat confused, however, how the Christmas fast squares with St. Martin’s Day, the one and true origin of Thanksgiving. They must have suspended the fast for the Martin’s goose meal.

  23. DKL, your point about the limits of the western tradition is well taken. On the other hand, it was the Vatican that has given us the most precise calendar, which we continue to use. In that sense, Kristine has got it right.

    Speaking of the holy year, does anyone have a good source matching the holy year with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, please?

  24. LXX Luthor says:

    Amen Kristine. Amen Blain.

  25. DKL–the fact that the Eastern Orthodox church uses a different calendar system to set the precise dates for its celebration of certain festivals does not at all change my point, which was that Christmas is traditionally understood as a 12-day festival, extending from Christmas Day to Epiphany, rather than a precise point on the Gregorian (or Julian) calendar, and that therefore, beginning the 12 days of Christmas on December 14th is wrong by all Christian reckoning and coincides only with the countdown of shopping days till Christmas.

    If it makes you feel better, I’ll amend “Christian calendar” to “Christian liturgical year.”

  26. By the day, tomorrow is Saint Nicholas day. If you put out your boots tonight and have been a good child this year then he might leave some presents behind.

    If you were bad there will be a cane in your boots.

  27. Kristine: If it makes you feel better, I’ll amend “Christian calendar” to “Christian liturgical year.”

    I can’t have you do that. It would make me look like nothing more than a pedantic heckler. (oh, wait. I am a pedantic heckler. Never mind.)

    Anyway, I’ll stick with the Calendar that Jesus used, thank you very much.

  28. Hellmut, check here for starters.

  29. Kristine, have I known you this long and not known you were an ardent prescriptivist? (Though I’m unsure whether you’re insisting on a prescriptivist language, a prescriptivist calendar, or both.)

  30. Thanks, Bill. Wouldn’t it be “cool” to celebrate the holy year with the appropriate music every Sunday?

  31. Well, Matt, if by “ardent prescriptivist” you mean “secretly longing to rule the world and make everyone think just like me,” I’m your girl!!

    Actually, I’m wanting neither prescriptivist language nor a prescriptivist calendar–I mostly want to dictate that everyone should celebrate Christmas in the way I find most uplifting. Got it?


  32. John, children care about how many days it is until Christmas because they have been taught that they will get lots of presents on Christmas morning. This is not inevitable.–Kristine (#19)

    I’ve been mulling that over. My children wonder how long it is until every enjoyable, identifiable day, not just the ones involving presents. They wonder when the last day of school is, when relatives will arrive, when they will visit their cousins. A phrase they used to use quite a bit was “When I’m a man …”, followed by some plan for their future. So I don’t think that orientation toward the future of those with little rememberable past is due solely or even mainly to a lust for gain. Christmas is fun in lots of ways, and the presents are only part that, even for children.

  33. See, all that would have sailed right over my head. I just would have been annoyed that the Primary Presidency is dictating what I’m supposed to be doing with my family scripture time.

    I hate being the subject of the well-laid plans of others.

  34. This irritates me mightily.

    I can only imagine the horror of having a primary president who, like most of America, isn’t well versed in the various religious traditions of others, try a creative way to encourage your kids to read their scriptures. You’d think with the requirement that all primary presidents have Masters degrees in divinity, this would no longer be a problem.

    With all due respect, it’s petty criticisms like these that make the more timid among us avoid callings. Surely you can find something more weighty to be mightily irritated by.