I like Adam Sandler’s song about Hanukkah. I really like the line about it being “eight crazy nights.” It is a fun song. I enjoy it. He makes it relatable even for those of us who do not celebrate the holiday. I know what Hanukkah celebrates. It is often called the festival of lights because of the legend that when the Second Temple was cleansed the oil for the menorah was only going to last one day. It would be eight days until replacement oil would arrive. Miraculously, the light continued to burn until the replacement oil arrived. The Fourth Gospel (John) indicates Jesus celebrated this festival (John 10:22).
The song “Twelve Days of Christmas” always seemed strange to me. Christmas was celebrated on two days during my childhood. Rarely, did we have to wait until another day to celebrate it because of work schedules. I grew up in a church that did not recognize Christmas as a Christian celebration. The argument was that there was no biblical command to celebrate Christmas so it was considered wrong (or at least risky) to celebrate it. For the most part, I understood it and Easter as secular holidays. It may sound strange to many people. But that is the way it was.
The Twelve Days refer to the season of Christmas that begins sundown on December 24th and continues to January 5th. The next day after the twelfth day begins the season of Epiphany (or Theophany) which celebrates Jesus’ presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). It is a season of feasting and worship. December 26th is celebrated as commemorating the martyrdom of St. Stephen the Deacon (Acts 7). The 28th of December recalls the murder of The Holy Innocents recorded in Matthew 2:16-18. Watch Night (December 31st) is an American innovation recalling the Emancipation Proclamation. While it is an accident of history that Emancipation began on New Years Day, it is a fortuitous addition to the Christmas season for some churches.
There are some articles one can find that gives some interesting allegorical interpretations to the song Twelve Days. None of these are true. In fact, it throws off the whole point of the celebration of the Twelve Days. One person I spoke with on Christmas Day this year was surprised to learn the Twelve Days “is a real thing.” It is what I would have said growing up. I spoke with someone on Christmas Eve this year that felt like he had lost as he put it “the wonder and awe” of Christmas. I understand that person’s dull feeling all too well.
It is easy to blame our culture of commercialism that surrounds Christmas gift buying for corrupting the meaning of Christmas. It is also convenient to blame people for not learning the meanings of Christmas or for not feeling as they should. Ultimately though, the fault of not understanding Christmas or the failure of many “not getting it” belongs to the Church.
Protestant Christianity has lost the meaning of Christian worship. Remember that I just said I was taught that there was no commandment given to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some teachers said the birth of Jesus did not matter. They did not realize that Christmas celebrates the miracle of the Incarnation of the Word of God as the Only Begotten Son of God.
Christian worship centers around that Person who is both the Son of God and the Word of God. Our worship is meant to tell his story. The purpose of the Church is to glorify God in this world. We do that in worship, teaching, evangelizing, and service. Oddly enough worship is the most corrupted part of Protestantism in America. This criticism applies to the mainline, evangelical, and fundamentalist forms of Protestantism. The story we tell in Christian worship is the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian calendar and lectionaries are designed for weekly worship to tell this story. The seasons of preparation and fasting are important because they help us understand the meanings of the festivals. Sacraments are important to telling the story. St. Paul describes baptism as the form of the gospel (Romans 6:1-11) and holy communion as proclaiming “the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:27)
The Church has failed in this area. We may say, “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday” or “Jesus is the reason for the season.” These platitudes are meaningless without getting the whole story. I remember an “adult confirmation class” I taught one year where a couple that attended were fascinated by the film “The Miracle Maker.” It is a Claymation film about the gospel story. They regretted leaving early because they “really wanted to know how the story turned out.” Well, so do I. I want to hear it every year in every place. And I don’t want it done by the culture or society. I want it done by the Church. Perhaps, we will get John’s words about how “the light shines in darkness” that the darkness neither can comprehend nor overwhelm.