Brandon's Notepad

December 2, 2019

Happy New (Liturgical) Year!

Filed under: Catholic,Christianity,Religion — Brandon @ 1:48 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Happy New Year! Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, marking the beginning of the 2019–2020 liturgical year. The sermon at Mass was filled with the typical reminders that we ought to spent the next few weeks reflecting on our lives and preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus in the nativity, something we are urged to do every year at this time. It dawned on me that, in a way, we are making New Year’s resolutions, committing to changes in our lives that should in someway improve the condition of our souls. How is this really different than making New Year’s resolutions on January 1st? So often we resolve to exercise more, eat less, set aside time to read, spend more time with family, etc. Should we not make similar promises at the beginning of Advent to read more scripture, pray more often, and volunteer to help others?

January 5, 2015

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,


Today, January 5th, is the twelfth day of the Christmas season according to the Church’s liturgical calendar. To celebrate, I decided to write a little post on various aspects of this observance.

‘Tis The Season…

In the Catholic Church, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a time of celebration to commemorate the Nativity of Jesus. The dates always fall on December 25th through January 5th, and is immediately followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. In the Latin (Roman) Rite, the first day (December 25th) is a Holy Day of Obligation; whereas, it is required for the faithful in the Eastern Churches to observe January 6th as the primary Christmas celebration, whereupon it is the Baptism of Jesus that receives the focus, and not the visitation of the Magi. Anglicans and Lutherans also celebrate (or at least recognize) this season, the major difference being that for them the Twelve Day period defines the entirety if Christmastide, which (currently) extends through the Sunday after Epiphany for Catholics.

…To Be Jolly

Western secular culture has tried to change the meaning of the Twelve Days over time. Americans especially love a crescendo, so the Twelve Days are often represented as a sort of countdown to Christmas. If there are going to be twelve days in Christmas, then certainly the last will be the biggest and loudest celebration, and that, as everyone knows, falls on the 25th of December by tradition. This is the same cultural movement that favors “countdown calendars” to Advent calendars (though in a way, that’s really what the Advent calendar is). In this context, however, the end of the countdown marks the day when, through the receipt of material goods, one can reasonably expect to feel the most jolly (as opposed to being joyous over the gift of hope for eternal salvation given by an almighty and merciful God). And where might the idea of linking the Twelve Days with progressive gift-giving have originated?

The Song

Oh right, the song. You know, the one about the singer’s true love granting an increasingly elaborate and expensive array of gifts to win her (gender assumed) favor. To be honest, I have never liked that song, if for no other reason than that I find the repetition and even the tune itself extremely annoying. Not to mention that it has nothing to do with Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas. I’m not trying to be a humbug here — quite the opposite in fact!

My interest in the song did pique when I received an e-mail that was making the rounds a few years ago about “The Real Meaning to 12 Days of Christmas”. It explained how the song was written as a tool to catechize young Catholic children in England where Catholicism had been outlawed. The singer’s “true love” is God, of course, and the singer is the Church / the believer / the Christian. Each gift is suppose to represent a gift from God:

  1. Partridge in a pear tree :: Jesus Christ who died on a tree
  2. Turtle doves :: the Old and New Testaments
  3. French hens :: faith, hope, and love
  4. Calling birds :: the four Gospels
  5. Golden rings :: the Pentateuch
  6. Geese a-laying :: the six days of creation
  7. Swans a swimming :: the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
  8. Maids a milking :: the Beatitudes
  9. Ladies dancing :: nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  10. Lords a-leaping :: the Ten Commandments
  11. Pipers piping :: the eleven faithful disciples (sans Judas)
  12. Drummers drumming :: the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed

At first blush this sounds great, but as it turns out, this whole idea is a fabrication of modern times. This should be obvious in light of two bits of information. First, the order (and even the number) of gifts varied each time the song was published and the lyrics we use today are from the 1909 version; thus, the use of the gifts as a mnemonic device for memorizing the theological points listed above is anachronistic. Second, none of the items listed above would separate Catholics from Protestants, so what would be the value in secretly encoding them into song? Perhaps, I will dig a little deeper into why this rumor was started, and if I do, I will update this post.

December 13, 2009

Celebrating Advent

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 10:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

About Advent

Advent. The season of Advent is an annual period of preparation for the coming of the promised savior, Jesus Christ. In the West, the liturgical year begins with Advent and it lasts twenty-one to twenty-eight days, beginning with Advent Sunday (Levavi), the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Its name is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”. This has a two-fold meaning, as the purpose is to both commemorate the First Coming and prepare for the Second Coming.

The Nativity Fast. The Eastern Church celebrates a similar forty-day Nativity Fast that begins with the Feast of Saint Philip on November 14th and ends on the Eve of the Nativity on December 24th. Practices are different than in the West, more closely resembling Lent, and are not the focus of this page.

How To Celebrate

Advent Calendar. The Advent Calendar is a 19th Century German invention. Over time, various methods were used to count down the days until Christmas, but the most familiar form used today is a two-layer wooden or cardboard calendar constructed such that twenty-four little doors on the decorated outer layer conceal pictures or writings on the inner layer that pertain to the First Coming of the Lord. One door is opened each day in December before Christmas Day. Those serious about observance will avoid the secular varieties and may choose to make calendars for their children by hand before the season begins.

Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath is another way to count down the season of Advent, this time by lighting one candle each week of the season. Like the Advent Calendar, the Advent Wreath was probably invented, at least in its modern form, in 19th Century Germany. Some early examples included four white candles to represent Sundays and nineteen red candles to represent the other days. The current standard is four weekly candles, the third being rose in color (for Gaudete Sunday) and the remaining three being violet, all of which coincide with the liturgical colors used in the Western Church. The lighting of candles, either weekly or daily, is usually accompanied by some form of devotion, typically prayers and readings from Scripture. An optional white candle in the center of the wreath, called “the Christ candle”, is lit on Christmas Eve or Day in some observances. The evergreen wreath and accumulation of light symbolize spiritual endurance and the anticipation of the coming Christ as the light of the world respectively.

[Two variations are worthy of note. Blue candles are popular as this color was once used in the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite, in England in particular; however, the use of Sarum blue liturgically is no longer authorized. Some Orthodox believers have adapted the Western standard, adding two candles to represent the additional weeks of the Nativity Fast.]

A daily Advent Wreath Service is available, based on the Evening Prayer Service on page 109 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Nativity Scene or Crèche. The Nativity scene is a reproduction, usually in miniature, of the stable in Bethlehem where the infant Jesus was born and visited by shepherds, the Magi, and others. Two traditions of “building up” the Nativity scene are popular. The first involves adding the characters to the scene in the order they would have entered the real stable, beginning with the animals, Mary and Joseph, etc. The infant Jesus is added on Christmas Day and the Magi at Epiphany. The second involves adding a piece of straw for each good deed performed by the children in the household.

Advent House. This is a combination of an Advent Calendar and Nativity Scene. Twenty-four windows on the exterior of the house open to reveal scenes related to the First Coming and a twenty-fifth window or door reveals the Nativity.

Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree helps us remember important people and events from Old Testament Scripture. Symbols representing each person, such as a ram to represent Isaac and a ladder for Jacob for example, are sewn or constructed from paper, and though there doesn’t seem to be any standard, many Jesse Tree ornaments are white in color. The ornaments can be added daily, accompanied by Scripture readings about the persons they represent.

Advent Music

Ad Te Levavi. Ad te levávi ánimam meam, Deus meus, in te confído, non erubéscam. To Thee have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed. These are the first words of the Intoit for the first Sunday of Advent.

O Antiphons. The O Antiphons are said or sung during Vespers (or Evening Prayer) between December 17th and December 23rd. There are seven antiphons, one for each day.

Additional Sites of Interest

Create a free website or blog at