12 days of whatever, whenever

Yes, I know, I know, I know.

I am a horrible Christian traditionalist (Eastern Orthodox, actually) who cares about liturgical traditions that are not good for the global economy. I get spooked or even angry when I hear a reggae-musak version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” over the speakers in a hamburger joint and it isn’t even Nativity Lent (think Advent) yet.

And then there’s THIS. It’s brilliant, but also kind of sad.

So I recognize that the following Associated Press business report is inevitable and, in fact, it’s an annual event. The question, for me: Why is the Los Angeles Times running this it on Nov. 29?

Here is the oh-so-familiar opening of the report:

In the unlikely event that your Christmas list this year includes every item mentioned in “The 12 Days of Christmas,” be prepared to pay nearly $100,000.

Buying the 364 items repeated in all the song’s verses — from 12 drummers drumming to a partridge in a pear tree — would cost $96,824, an increase of 10.8% over last year, according to the annual Christmas price index compiled by PNC Wealth Management.

So you might want to try for just one of everything. That would cost $23,439, or 9.2% more than last year.

The 27th annual holiday index has historically mirrored the national consumer price index, but not this year. The Christmas index grew 9.2% from last year, compared with just a 1.1% increase in the much broader consumer index.

Much of this is due to surging gold prices, yada, yada, yada. And the cost of hiring nine ladies dancing — presumably these are unionized dancers — is up to $6,294.03. Couldn’t you just get nine ladies to volunteer from your trendy local parish’s liturgical dance team?

But here is what I want to know from GetReligion readers, especially the newsroom professionals: When are the 12 days of Christmas, the real ones? Does anyone know? Does this basic fact even matter? (We are talking, by the way, about the Western calendar, not observances in, oh, Russia or parts of the Middle East. I’m not asking an Orthodox question, here.)

Yes, I realize that some media outlets are already throwing the term around. I think some cable channel started 12 holiday movies in a row, like “Elf,” before Thanksgiving. Ignore that, please.

In an AP story such as this, does the reporter even need to mention the real 12 days? What about media coverage of alleged “12 days” events that do not take place during the real 12-day Christmas season? Do the facts matter at all?

Oh, one more thing. Please feel free to send us, during the next month or so, any really good or really bad stories that you see about the 12-day Christmas season.

What’s a bad story? You’ll know it when you see it. No “War on Christmas” stories, please, unless some mall decides to arrest people for caroling during the actual Christmas season.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Paul

    The 12 days of Christmas run approximately from Christmas to Epiphany (when the wise men visited). Not sure the exact dates but it’s either Dec. 25-Jan. 5th or Dec. 26-Jan. 6th.

    • Remiel Crow

      Traditionally January 6 is the 12th day of Christmas, celebrated in Medieval times as Twelfth Night. More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelfth_Night_(holiday) . I knew this before Wikipedia existed, so it’s actually true! ;)

    • Anonymous

      Of course, in reality, it’s most likely that the Magi didn’t visit until quite a bit after Christ was born (since Mary fled into Egypt after the Magi visited, and we know that Mary and Joseph must have stayed in Palestine long enough to present Jesus at the Jerusalem Temple).

      Tatian in his ‘Diatesseron’ has the Magi visit Joseph and Mary sometime after the Presentation in the Temple (which is celebratred today in early February).

  • Paul

    The 12 days of Christmas run approximately from Christmas to Epiphany (when the wise men visited). Not sure the exact dates but it’s either Dec. 25-Jan. 5th or Dec. 26-Jan. 6th.

  • Jerry

    What? No “war on Christmas” stories? A Google news search already has 117 hits on that phrase including the one where Fox falsely claims one when the facts are different.

    I think the Wikipedia article says it all:

    the traditions of the Twelve Days of Christmas have been largely forgotten in the U.S. This is also heightened by the commercial practice to have after-Christmas sales begin on 26 December and run usually until New Year’s Eve. Indeed, contemporary marketing and media tend to espouse the (erroneous) belief that the Twelve Days end on Christmas and thus begin 14 December

    However, a small percentage of Christians of many sects have held on to their own favorite ways to celebrate and those who choose to also have their own church to guide them in a spiritual way of marking this reverent holiday. Americans who celebrate in various ways include Christians of all backgrounds: Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Moravians and those of the Amish and Mennonite communities.


  • Xcjorr

    According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Second Council of Tours (can. xi, xvii) proclaims, in 566 or 567, the sanctity of the “twelve days” from Christmas to Epiphany, and the duty of Advent fast”.

    Source: Martindale, C.C. (1908). Christmas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm

  • Xcjorr

    Regarding the celebration (or lack thereof) of Advent, the Catholic Encyclopedia says this: “Several synods had made laws about fasting to be observed during this time [i.e., Advent], some beginning with the eleventh of November, others the fifteenth, and others as early as the autumnal equinox. Other synods forbade the celebration of matrimony.”

    Source: Mershman, F. (1907). Advent. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01165a.htm

    • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

      That’s neat. I didn’t know that about Catholics. Orthodox don’t marry during Advent, either.

  • Xcjorr

    “…the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th. [However,] in some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.”

    Source: http://www.crivoice.org/cy12days.html

  • Julia

    It’s not just the media that doesn’t know the “real” Christmas season.
    I’ve been observing people talking about their Christmas trees already up and trimmed before Thanksgiving. I ask when they take them down and almost all say a day or two after Christmas; a few say the day after New Year’s.

    When told that I don’t put my tree up until just before Christmas, and keep it up until Epiphany, people think that’s really odd. These are church-going Christians, mostly Catholic. It’s the merchandisers that are now determining the calender.

    On the plus side, I was told that because of my strange timetable I could probably get one of those new trees with attached lights on sale just before Christmas.

    • Guest

      I keep mine up from Advent until Epiphany. I love my Christmas tree!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MBHQF5KRK2Y6E7JYI2UY6CXFIA Christopher

    None of the commenters so far has it quite right.

    The first day of Christmas is Christmas Day, December 25. The last day of Christmas is the day before Epiphany, January 5. Epiphany itself (January 6) is not part of the Christmas season, but the first day of the Epiphany season. That is why “Twelfth Night” celebrations were/are held on the evening of January 5.

    Technically the Christmas season begins with Vespers on December 24 and ends before Vespers on January 5 — but don’t tell that to the Twelfth Night partiers, who are likely to be hitting the Wassail bowl long after sundown on Twelfth Night.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    In an AP story such as this, does the reporter even need to mention the real 12 days?

    I would say no. Of course, in my Church of Christ background growing up, we celebrated the secular Christmas. We did not believe in the religious Christmas because we saw no biblical basis for it (many more C of C members would see Christmas as a religious holiday now than did a few decades ago). As a kid, it concerned me when my Southern Baptist aunt sent Christmas cards with the manger on them. We C of C’ers much preferred Santa and the reindeer.

    My point, though, is that in America, there is a secular Christmas and a religious Christmas. I don’t think a business writer obviously referring to the secular Christmas must mention the religious calendar. Just my opinion, FWIW …

    • Bill R.

      Reminds me of a C. S. Lewis essay, in which he takes the tone of a cultural anthropologist studying “Northern European islanders” and their curious joint observance of two very different holidays – Christmas and Exmas – that happen to fall on the same day.

    • Anonymous

      So when are the secular 12 days, bucko?

      • http://getreligion.org Bobby

        They start on the day when your true love buys you a partridge in a pear tree … and end on the 12th day with 12 drummers drumming. I think the specific days are flexible depending on one’s shopping schedule. :-)

    • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

      I think they do, Bobby. I had been reading the paper (Tampa Tribune) every morning since I was13 but was in my twenties before I found out when the12 Days are. Because of advertising I thought the days were the last 12 shopping days before Christmas. I think newspapers have an obligation to educate their readers.

      • http://getreligion.org Bobby

        Good point, mattk.

      • http://getreligion.org Bobby

        Good point, mattk.

  • Anonymous

    So, why make secular references to 12 days at all? Who gets to change basic facts of this kind?

  • Bern

    “Do the facts matter at all.?” Apparently not.

    But, tmatt, you’ve got a friend in Utah–although this story dates the 12 days from the 24th, not the 25th.


  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Not only that, but now the Halloween displays start appearing in stores in August.