The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The First Day of Christmas?

On the First Day of Christmas,
a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

For Plainfielders who come from the liturgical Christian traditions (primarily Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran), today is the First Day of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The marketing buzz of the consumer Moloch will spend the next few days on end-of-year closeout sales and then shift at once into Valentine's Day marketing.

For many, Christmas is already a thing of the past, a mess left behind by family and kids to be cleaned up and then move on.

But for those who embrace the ancient calendar, it is the first of the twelve days of Christmastide that will culminate in the Feast of the Epiphany, which tradition holds is when the Three Magi from the East arrive at the stable in Bethlehem to present their gifts to the infant Jesus.

The Twelve Days are celebrated in a Christmas song (of which many grow tired long before the eponymous days arrive!), whose origins are shrouded in the mists but may go back to the murderous religious atmosphere in 1500s England in the tussle over whether it would become Anglican or revert to its ancient Catholic allegiance. Some consider the song (see here) a catechetical device, designed to secretly teach the elements of the Catholic confession without drawing the attention of Anglican authorities.

Whether or not this is so, the visit of the Three Kings which concludes the Twelve Days is both a solemn festival in the churches and -- in Hispanic cultures worldwide -- a day of merrymaking and gift-giving.

The fact that gifts are traditionally exchanged on 'El Dia de Reyes' (see here) may help explain the circumstance that while Anglo stores in the area were shut tight yesterday, Plainfield was abuzz with shopping activity downtown, looking very much like a regular Saturday with crowds on the street and scarcely a parking space in sight.

Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night (see here), was intended to portray the festival atmosphere on the last night of the Christmas celebrations, the evening before the Twelfth Day and the twelfth night after Christmas Eve.

Those spoilsports, the Puritans, railed against all this while in England and, when they had the chance to set up their paradise on earth in New England in the new world, saw to it that the 'naughty' merriment and games, tippling and gift-giving of the traditional English celebrations were not observed in the New Eden -- by making the observances a crime and hauling celebrants before the magistrates.

The lingering effects of this Puritan ethic help account for the loss of the Three Kings tradition among Anglos.

More's the pity, I say.

On the Twelfth Day,
the gifts of the Three Kings.

-- Dan Damon

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olddoc said...

Dan, Isn't today "Boxing Day", the day the Britsh aristocrats gave presents to their servants? r gwet rid of what we don't want. TIthink it originally included passin g down food etc that was left over from Xmas and was sort of a down the chain recycling gifting.

Dan said...

Olddoc, you're absolutely right -- it IS Boxing Day, Maybe I'll revile it next year. All my best as always....

Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...

Thanks for this post Dan, little did I know the connection between the song and the celebration. Maybe readers will be interested on attending next Saturday, Jan 3rd, the play at St. Mary's on the Ephiphany of the Lord Celebration. The play will be at 4 PM and all are welcome, you can even bring your wish-letter to the 3 Kings, an old tradition with Latino families. Hope to see some of your readers, and you, at this warm representation of a cheerished celebration by many. Thanks again!

olddoc said...

To one and all, an apology for all the typos that slipped by in my earlier comment. This is why I could never use an Ipod or droid etc to text.

Anonymous said...

Mr Politically correct has left our our Orthodox branch. Lets here it for the Augustine calendar, as well as the French Revolution's adjustment.