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.”