Friday, December 21, 2007

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

"THE BIG DAY"...THEN WHAT? Care to join with me on spiritual journey through the "Twelve Days of Christmas?" I've prepared readings and reflections for each day from Christmas to Epiphany, concluding on January 6. Instead of collapsing or meandering after "the big day," why not keep watch through these weeks that lead us from festive days into the heart of winter.

ENTER INTO A TIME-HONORED PRACTICE. I must tell you that I'm still a novice at observing the "Twelve Days of Christmas." I attempted to observe Christmastide this way for the first time in 1999. But the more I am learning about the tradition, and with each year I mark these days with intentional discipline, the more I appreciate this way of celebrating Christmas. I enter into this long-standing tradition as a contemporary spiritual exercise.

A BIT OF HISTORY. This journey follows the teaching themes of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." You read right: teaching themes. What I've always thought was sheer silliness (what weird, wacky, useless gifts to give to one's true love!) turns out to be a teaching device used in catechism for children as they prepared for Christian baptism. The "silly gifts" are disguised references to some of the basic teachings of Christianity.

A LESSON A DAY. Dating to the 16th century religious wars in England (during which the Catholic expression of the Christian faith was severely restricted), the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song was a mnemonic device used to teach the catechism secretly to youngsters. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the "days" represents some aspect of the Christian faith that was important for children or new believers to learn.

WHAT MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME. These twelve days offer an opportunity to explore and celebrate the significance of Christmas by touching on twelve different aspects of our spirituality. We receive, through Jesus Christ, these gifts for living life to the full:
First Day, December 25: A partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
Second Day, December 26: Two turtle doves = Old and New Testaments
Third Day, December 27: Three French hens = Faith, hope, and love
Fourth Day, December 28: Four calling birds = Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Fifth Day, December 29: Five golden rings = Pentateuch (Torah): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Sixth Day, December 30: Six geese a laying = Six days of creation
Seventh Day, December 31: Seven swans a swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion
Eighth Day, January 1: Eight maids a milking = The Beatitudes
Ninth Day, January 2: Nine ladies dancing = Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness, 6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control.
Tenth Day, January 3: Ten lords a leaping = The Ten Commandments
Eleventh Day, January 4: Eleven pipers piping = The Eleven faithful Apostles
Twelfth Day, January 5: Twelve drummers drumming = The twelve points of doctrine in The Apostle's Creed
Epiphany, January 6: Visit of the Magi

HOW TO ACCESS THE READINGS. Could be an interesting 12-day journey. Hope you can join in. I'd be interested in your responses, questions, and/or reflections as we go along. In addition to being available at my "Twelve Days" site, the readings/reflections will be posted here on bikehiker blog each evening for the next day, beginning December 24.