Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas is more of a Western tradition than an Eastern Tradition; however, many American Orthodox Christians view the time from December 25th through (and including) January 5th as the 12 Days of Christmas. January 6th is the Feast of Theophany.
In the West, January 6th is Epiphany. Epiphany is the visit of the Magi or Wise Men and some view it as the 12th day of Christmas ( Dec 26 would then be day 1). Theophany is the celebration of the Lord’s baptism in the Jordan river and the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God.
Liturgically the Orthodox church does not celebrate 12 Days. I think I read it is 6 Days. I think the “Leaving Taking of the Nativity” is Dec 29 or Dec 30? January 1st is celebrated as the Circumcision of our Lord and it is also St. Basil’s Day.
For my family we love that celebrating the Incarnation of God can be stretched out. Without the Incarnation, there could be no redemption but that is a meaty topic for another time and place.
We begin our Christmas celebrations on December 24, the Eve of the Feast. Prior to Christmas Eve we are in preparation mode. We prepare ourselves spiritually through fasting (as well as prayer and almsgiving) for 40 days (November 15th through and including December 24th).
Our Parish serves the Royal Hours in the morning on the 24th. My priest jokes that they should not be called Royal Hours but rather Imperial Hours because the Emperor attended these services. There are three in the liturgical year and are served on the Eve of the Feast: Christmas, Theophany, and Pascha. Well, eve isn’t exact for Pascha. I believe they are served on Holy Friday.
Later, in the early evening, Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is served. This service is beautiful and there are 8 Old Testament Readings. These are the readings that foretell the coming of the Messiah. You know, like the passage in Isaiah.
Immediately after the service we gather for a Lenten potluck. In the Slavic tradition there is a 12 course Holy Supper. We do have a quiet candlelight meal but it is not the traditional symbolic meal. You will find some regular items though such as pierogies, and fruit soup (because it’s what my husband makes).
We come home after church and sometimes open a present or two and do any finalizing for Christmas morning. Since we fast before liturgy we don’t have breakfast on Christmas morning. I have yet to serve the same thing on Christmas for the last 6 years! Maybe I’ll settle into a tradition when I have grandchildren.
If the girls are up early enough on Christmas morning we check stockings. This year? Nope. We had to race to get to church on time! The service is long. Matins starts at 9am and I think we pulled out of the parking lot to head home around Noon. Of course some time is spent after the service greeting one another and in some cases exchanging gifts. Now the feasting can begin!
I always serve beef on Christmas. Beef is the meat we don’t eat during the Nativity Fast. I also do not serve fish until after January 6th. There are certain foods that I only make a couple of times of the year. This keeps them special for holidays.
We don’t stop celebrating on Dec 25th though. Honeybear takes time off from work and we spend time together as a family playing board games, eating special foods, playing Wii, watching DVDs, visiting with friends, or enjoying special outings.
God taking on human flesh: God becoming man so that man can become like God is a big deal. Humanity and all creation is redeemed because a Virgin gave birth. It is worth celebrating for more than one day.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!