Twelfth Night & “The New Dial”

Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas! January 5th (or 6th, depending on who you speak to) marks the end of the twelve days Christmastide.

It is possible that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has been confused with (or is a transformation of) a song dating from the 1600’s, called “A New Dial” (also known as “In Those Twelve Days”). The New Dial assigns religious meanings to each of the twelve days of Christmas (but not for the purposes of teaching a catechism). In a manner somewhat similar to the memory-and-forfeits performance of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the song “A New Dial” was recited in a question-and-answer format.

It has also been said that perhaps the song was written as a kind of Catholic catechism for learning particular doctrines of the church. These claims hold very little water however. (Thank you

For your next “Memory & Forfeits Game”, I offer you, The New Dial, to play on Twelfth Night (January 5th).

What are they that are but one?
We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne.What are they which are but two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true.

What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity.

What are they which are but four?
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ’s birth, life, death which do declare.

What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign.

What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long.

What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man’s soul to crown.What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven.

What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven’s nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears.

What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save.

What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus’ sake.

What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God’s son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial’s done.

If you’re going to have a Twelfth Night party to celebrate Christ’s appearance to the Magi (which is what the next feast on the Church Calendar–Epiphany–I’d love to hear how you mark the occasion.

Whatever you do or however you mark the day (or evening) we have reason to rejoice–our King Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles when the Wise Men came across the desert to see the babe in a manger.

Because of Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior who shared their message far and wide after their visit, we can today find Christ for ourselves. He is as near as our own hearts if we would give Him room.

I want to make room for Jesus this year. How about you?


Twelvetide (or, The 12 Days of Christmas)

Centuries ago the observance and celebration of Christ’s birth spanned the period from December 25 to January 6, a twelve-day period called “Twelvetide,” much like the period from Lent to Easter is often referred to as “Eastertide.”

In Great Britain, the civic holidays end on Twelfth Night, the traditional English name given to the holy day celebrated on January 5. During the time of Queen Elizabeth, Twelfth Night was observed in England with wild celebration, a centuries-old tradition that inspired Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. (Ah, the things you learn from the encyclopedia.)

On the church calendar, Twelvetide is a slow walk towards Epiphany and ends with the feast marking the appearance of the Magi at the site of the Christ Child. Many orthodox and traditional churches live out this practice of acknowledging the Twelve Days of “in-between.” To me, it is a new revelation and I welcome the slowing down it’s allowing me.

However, as our culture often does, veering away from the sacred and turning towards the fun, these twelve days are marked predominantly by a popular rhyme and song more than anything else. The song is sung during the Christmas season, ironically, not during the twelve days it represents. (There’s a link to a cool poster of the song on the website here, by the way.)


Maybe you think stretching out the days between Christmas and Epiphany is more like stretching out the stress. It’s the day after Christmas, and you are done with celebrating, done with gifting, and you’re ready to move on to the year ahead. The youngsters you know—nieces, nephews, neighbor kids or your own children—have gone back to their old favorite books, puzzles and games, and the high point from all that happiness of new presents has dimmed a bit.

So consider the built-in wisdom afforded by Twelvetide—a centuries-old practice desperately needed today when we want to over-accelerate our lives. Grown-ups and children alike can all use some help readjusting to the new normal of a coming year that isn’t packed with busy-ness, parties and presents.

We can’t keep Christmas with us all year, but maybe a gradual return to normalcy could help alleviate the sudden crash. A slow journey through the Twelve Days can allow the time to process our feelings about the presence of our family and friends–not just the presents. Decluttering and un-Christmasing during the twelve days of Christmas also combines handwork with heartwork–there’s something about physical movement that provides needed ‘think time.’ The truth is, there is often just as many challenges during the holiday as there is Christmas cheer.

So, on this, the seventh (or eighth, depending on how you count) day of Christmas, take an extra moment to breathe. Give yourself permission to un-Christmas slowly and walk into the new year with hope. Epiphany is waiting—the Feast Day on the Church Calendar marking the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.

When the Magi came and saw the King in the manger, they left to tell the world that the savior Jesus was finally here. Epiphany is the sending point of Christmas, not the ending.

Christmas wasn’t really over—it had just begun. And by God’s grace we are given the chance to begin anew each day.

What are you beginning today?


This post is adapted from Chapter 7 of my book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.” 

The Twelve Days of Christmas Begins!

It is a snowy morning here in Seattle land and I am so very happy to share this very a propos photo, inspired by the Church Year. Our Twelve Days of Christmas begins today and we celebrate until January 6th, Epiphany, when Christ was revealed to the Gentiles.

What a gift we have been given.

Merry Christmas!

(Hat tip to Nancy Franson and her friend Gabrielle for the photo from Episcopalians on Facebook. Enjoy).

the tree stays up until Epiphan


Celtic Advent

Have you found that when God shows you something there are “sacred echoes” (as Margaret Feinberg calls them) everywhere?

When I wrote “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas” I shared with readers about observing the four Sundays of Advent to slow down the holiday season. Certainly nothing new; people have been doing this for hundreds of years.

But observing Advent is new-ish to me.

Dr. Susan Forshey at the Contemplative Cottage is one of those sacred echoes in my life.Because Advent begins this year on December 3rd (my daughter Leah’s birthday) the days before Christmas are fewer than is often the case. Observing Celtic Advent this year is one way to extend the season. Susan at Contemplative Cottage has designed a calendar that begins on November 15th and marks the 40 days prior to Thanksgiving, through Christmas and all the way to Epiphany, with a simple encouragement for each day.

It’s a lovely way to slow down the days with intentional living. Enjoy!


Living the Church Year

“As with much of Christianity, the church year can be radically countercultural, a much-needed light showing a better way to live. In a culture that is often too hurried and distracted, the church year helps us pay attention because it draws our focus continually back to Christ.”

-K.C. Ireton, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year

Worldwide history is always referenced by that watershed moment when Christ came to earth. We mark time as either B.C., ‘Before Christ’, or A.D. Anno Domini, Latin, meaning ‘the year of our Lord.’  It makes sense, then, that we should keep time according to a church calendar, particularly as believers in a kingdom that is not of this world.

The church year or church calendar (used interchangeably) has two parts, like a large circle divided in two. One arc of the circle places the beginning of the church year on the first Sunday of Advent 4 weeks before Christmas.  This period stretches until Pentecost in May or June and tells the story of the life of Christ. The second arc of the circle goes from Pentecost until Christ the King Sunday at the end of November, and tells the story of the life of the church.

The word ‘liturgy’ comes from the Greek leitos, of the people + ergon, work: leitourgia, in other words, “the work of the people” or public duty.

As believers in Christ, the work of the people is when we flesh out our roles as light in the world, honoring God with our words and practices. And what better time to do that than at Christmas when a dark world needs this light?

Annual Christmas liturgies are like a glance from a moving train with a view onto the same landscape. The ‘landscape’ is our daily life and the rituals are the reminders to slow down as we travel, giving us a gift of hope. We revisit familiar terrain each year we “pass by” Christmas in the annual traditions that surround the holiday; thus, the liturgies become an icon through which we see God.


Word Play—Icon

The word icon is from the Greek word eikon, meaning likenessimage or picture.  How icons ended up being a term for the thumbprint graphics on a computer desktop seems a little odd. But think about it. When you click on a particular icon, a way is opened that takes you to view what’s inside, a window to another place, and widens your vision to something more. This technological use of the term, embraced by all of us who own a computer, is derived from Orthodox Christian theology, where icons are considered a window into the holy. The simple outline of a cross or candle or a drawing of the star of Bethlehem are symbols that help us catch a glimpse of God. They are a part of the annual liturgies of Christmas.


Maybe like me, you shy away from connecting the word “ritual” with anything in the church. The connotation of the word didn’t leave much room for the spontaneity of the Spirit of God—so planned and confined. But I’ve found there is great comfort in the repetition of a prayer, a benediction or psalm, one that engages us with other believers. This reminder of prayers lifted around the world throughout time reminds us we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether reciting the Doxology or the 23rd Psalm, taking communion or saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison, these practices bring us back to the center—where God is.

A ritual is simply a custom or practice of a formal kind—formal in the sense that it has a form, something repeated and defined. When we use a form, it makes space for something. Annual holiday practices, rituals if you will, can become a means to seeing God more fully. Simple things like lighting a candle and reciting Scripture tune us to the practice of looking for Jesus in the Christmas season when we intentionally hold a space for Him to come.

Will you join me this Christmas season in doing LESS, not more, and pray about what you might take away from your busy life to make room for more of God?

That is the heart of Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.