I’m a little obsessed with the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas. It all began last year, when we visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon for the Illuminations. You can read some of my thoughts about the true 12 days of Christmas (meaning the days following Dec. 25 and ending at Epiphany on January 6) in this article from the archives. I haven’t changed my thinking much since then, in fact, I am more than ever convinced that the truly subversive act of faith would be to observe these 12 days following our now mostly secular extravaganza known as the Christmas season (since, except for little subversive pockets of people, has taken over most of Advent and this year, sadly, began just after Halloween in the world of commerce.)
My search for interesting and appropriate ways to observe these days between — between the party that we know as Christmas, even in our churches, and the day of Epiphany — led me to the web presence of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, which contains a lot of interesting information about ancient practices that have been, in many cases, lost to or discarded by the so-called Western church tradition. Some of them we have been happy to revive. For example, many of us begin our worship on Easter Day (known as Pascha in the Greek language and in the Eastern tradition) with the ancient greeting, “Christ is Risen,” to which we respond, “Christ is Risen Indeed.” But how many of us know that there is a parallel tradition for the time of Christ’s nativity, taken from the text for the katavasia of the Nativity (or the final stanza of a sung or spoken liturgical prayer in the Eastern tradition). The complete prayer is long, but as Melissa K. Tsongranis suggests, we can continue the ancient greeting of the season with “Christ is born,” with the response, “Glorify Him!” throughout these twelve days. And, perhaps, we could include in our daily prayers the beautiful opening to the katavasia:
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ comes from heaven; meet Him.
Christ is on earth exalt Him. O you earth, sing to the Lord.
O your nations, praise Him in joy for He has been glorified.
I plan to continue my search for more ways to focus my Christmas celebrations into these twelve days, so that I can truly experience both the Advent season and the Christmas seasons as did so many who came before me. For George Washington, it was simple: visits to family, church services, and finally, on the last day, a big party with dancing and fireworks (because, it was, after all, his wedding anniversary). I might be thinking of something a little more, introspective? How about you? I would love to hear about your ideas to experience the power of this season. In the meantime, however, I say to you in that ancient way: Christ is born!