Fifth Day of Christmas – Feast of St. Thomas à Becket
The “five golden rings” represent the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah or the Pentateuch (and generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament): 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.
The Fifth Day of the Christmas season, December 29th, marks the feast of another martyr, St. Thomas à Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, who was killed because he refused to give in to King Henry II who defied the Church of Rome.
Fourth Day of Christmas – Feast of the Holy Innocents
On the Fourth Day of Christmas, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Innocents, all of the young boys slaughtered at the command of King Herod, when he hoped to kill the newborn King of the Jews—Jesus Christ.
The Third Day of Christmas – Feast of St. John the Evangelist
In the popular song The Twelve Days of Christmas, three French hens are the gift given on the third day. It is said they symbolize the three wisemen bearing gifts. I was struck by a story I read in the 2011 Magnificat Advent Companion that highlighted several Christmas traditions from around the world — the following touches on an Italian Epiphany tradition.
“In Italy, the sense of anticipation does not fade in the days following Christmas, for Italians eagerly look forward to the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6. In the mountain village of Rivisondoli, nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the eve of the Epiphany is celebrated with a living reenactment of the first Christmas on a massive scale. Up to 600 people, mostly villagers but some visitors as well, are given acting parts in this Nativity play. The actors make their way through deep snow, often with more snow falling from the night sky, as they descend a mountain slope to the cave that serves as the manger scene. The Blessed Virgin Mary arrives on a donkey, cradling the Christ child in her arms (a real infant) as Joseph accompanies her. The Three Kings come on horseback.
“The traditional day in Italy for exchanging gifts in honor of the Christ child is the solemnity of the Epiphany, inspired by the gifts of the Magi. Italian children are told to hang their stockings on the preceding evening in expectation of a visitor in the night, La Befana. The legend of La Befana relates that as the Magi were journeying they sought directions to Bethlehem from an elderly woman named Befana and urged her to join them in their quest. Busy with her broom, she declined, but afterwards regretted her refusal and set out to find the Christ child. Failing to find him, she has continued her quest for centuries, wandering from one home to another in the hope of bringing him a gift. Ever unsuccessful, she nevertheless leaves gifts for the children of the house.”
So here in the United States as radio stations stop playing Christmas hymns, neighbors rush to take down the Christmas tree and trimmings, and retailers stock shelves with Valentine’s Day gifts, many across the world have just started celebrating. And on this third day of Christmas, they still eagerly await the symbolic arrival of the Magi bearing gifts in honor of the Christ child.
The Second Day of Christmas – The Feast of Stephen
In 1995, Fr. Hal Stockert, a Byzantine Catholic priest from Granville, New York, published a short piece on the website of the Catholic Information Network entitled The Twelve Days of Christmas: An Underground Catechism. Father Stockert claimed that the “delightful nonsense rhyme set to music . . . had a quite serious purpose when it was written.” Referring to the years 1558-1829, when the practice of Catholicism was officially outlawed in England, Father Stockert claimed to have uncovered evidence that “‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was written in England as one of the ‘catechism songs’ to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith.” Each of the gifts, Father Stockert declared, represented one of the truths of the Catholic Faith:
Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s town, Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was a direct descendant of David, to be registered with his future wife, Mary, now in the later stages of her pregnancy. Luke 7 :3