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When are the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a song most who are familiar with Christmas know at least part of. However, confusion exists as to when those days actually begin. Some people start their count on 13 December, but this is inaccurate. The twelve days of Christmas actually begin on Christmas day.

The significance of the twelve days of Christmas is that they mark the time between when Jesus was born and when he was visited by the Wise Men. This date, 6 January, is typically called Epiphany, or Little Christmas. In some countries, Epiphany is a more traditional date for giving gifts than is Christmas day. This is because giving gifts on this day symbolizes the gifts brought by the Wise Men, also called the Three Kings, or Magi.

The twelve days are often used to mark the journey of the Magi, who were told by Herod to bring back information to him regarding the birth of a child who would threaten his rule. Instead of informing Herod, the Wise Men bowed to Christ and recognized his sovereignty according to most tales.

For many, the day after Christmas signifies an onset of the blues. Christmas is over, and all the fun is done. It can be helpful to remember the twelve days of Christmas, as many Christians still consider this the Christmas season. Christmas day doesn’t end Christmas but merely begins the holiday celebration.

Though most people don't typically receive gifts for each of the twelve days of Christmas, many do have a small gift giving ceremony on Epiphany. For those who are already missing Christmas, celebrating Epiphany can extend the season.

Unfortunately, many have already discarded their Christmas trees long before the twelve days are over. It is wise to do so if the tree has become exceptionally dry. However, the Christmas tree is not a traditional Christian symbol, so Epiphany can be celebrated with or without one.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon236373 — On Dec 22, 2011

Thanks. I intend to refer to this page,as an excuse/reason for the alleged "late" arrival of any xmas related present(s).

Pragmatically, xmas cards, etc. are surprisingly significantly cheaper, saves resources and probable climate destruction, avoids recipients' psychologically diminishing returns of too many presents at one time, etc.

By anon139747 — On Jan 05, 2011

You are both incorrect in thinking the 12 days of Christmas refers to literal gifts. They are all symbolism for God (He is "my true love") and the gifts he has given. Each "gift" is a reference to Books of the Bible, spiritual gifts, Jesus, etc.

By DentalFloss — On Dec 12, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas lyrics to the original song are a lovey reminder of many antiquated phrases and traditions; the concept of anyone finding that many maids-a-milking, for example, might require a long search for many of us. Similarly, the Calling Birds from the fourth day of Christmas are often thought to be a reference to a specific breed of bird, traditionall used as carrier pigeons, which are now extinct.

By olittlewood — On Dec 04, 2007

A financial company always releases the "True Cost of the Twelve Days of Christmas," which lists the true costs of each item in the Twelve Days of Christmas song. This year, if you buy every item, in order (and remember, all the items are repeated several times) you'll pay over $19,500.00!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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