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Twelve Days of Christmas in the Catholic Home

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For Catholics, the Christmas season begins with Christmas midnight mass and not during Advent. The days from the feast of the Nativity until Epiphany are known as the twelve days of Christmas.

In this post, I’m sharing the Catholic meaning behind the twelve days of Christmas and how we celebrate it in our Catholic home.

traditional catholic altar after Christmas midnight mass.

This, not Advent, is the true Christmas Season. As most people in secular or Protestantized countries are putting away “Christmas-y” things, and as shopping malls stop blaring “Here Comes Santa Claus,” Catholics are just getting started. The cleaning and baking during penitential Advent pays off now, and the feasting and caroling begin!

nativity scene set up in the church for Christmas.


“During the season of Advent we longed for the coming of Christ. In Christmastide we experience the joy of His coming into the world. The church is full of the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ.

“Jesus as God, begotten of the substance of the Father before all the ages and born of the substance of His Mother in the world, is given to us. ‘And His Name shall be called the Angel of Great Counsel.’

“By the union of our souls with Jesus born to human life, we are born to divine life. ‘As many as received Him to them He gave power to become Sons of God’ (St. John)

“In the birth of Jesus we learn to know God as His Father: ‘My Father has entrusted everything into My hands; none knows the Son truly except the Father, and those to whom it is the Son’s good pleasure to reveal Him’ (St Matthew)

“During Christmastide, the liturgy shows us the Messias as the Son of God, clothed with humanity, glorified by the humble, surprised shepherds and adored by the Magi from the East. Let us fall down before the Child and bless God, for the birth of Jesus is the beginning of our Redemption through grace to the supernatural life.

“Christmas keeps the old custom of celebrating its feast at midnight. It was at this hour that Mary in her spotless virginity gave to the world its Savior. In the midst of darkness, the Light was born.

“Advent is the season of ‘absence of Jesus,’ Christmastide is a season of great joy in our possession of the Savior. Eight days after Christmas the Church celebrates the Circumcision of Jesus. On January 6, she commemorates the adoration of Jesus by the Magi (Epiphany), with which Octave the Christmastide closes.”

New Marian Missal (Imprimatur 1960)
little boy looking at decorated Christmas tree.

The twelve days of Christmas my True Love sent to me the feast of St Stephen and the story of King Wenceslaus, the feasts of St John the Evangelist and the Holy Innocents, the feasts of the Circumcision and the Holy Name of Jesus, and the feast of the Epiphany with the Three Wise Kings.

And on through the feast of the Holy Family and the commemoration of the Baptism of Christ. If you are loath to bid farewell to Christmas even then, you may continue it without interruption until Candlemas Day, February 2. However you keep it, long or short, it is a far longer season for the Christian child than the world understands.

For him festivity is not officially over with the last wrapping torn off the last gift, or the last nut retrieved from the last toe in the stocking. The Church would have us enjoy this season now that it is here, and celebrate the feasts that follow.

In order to indulge exhausted parents already drained of their grandest efforts for Christmas, this family keeps Christmas week feast days simply, using Christmas treats for desserts, and storytelling, reading aloud and charades for entertainments.”

The Year and our children
children under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

12 days of Christmas

The days from the Feast of the Nativity to the Epiphany are known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with Christmas itself being the first day.

“Christmas takes its name from the central and supreme act of Christian worship. Christmas means “Christ’s Mass”, the Mass offered in honor of the birth of Christ. Nearly all European languages, except English, use a word signifying nativity or birthday of Christ to designate the feast of Christmas: in Latin, Dies Natalis; in Italian Il Natale; and in French the Latin form is softened to Noel.

“In all lands and languages the great fact commemorated is the birth of Christ, and the great action by which that fact is commemorated and renewed is the Mass. On Christmas priests may offer three Masses to honor the threefold birth of the Son of God: His birth in time and in our humanity in the stable of Bethlehem; His spiritual birth by faith and charity in the souls of the shepherds, and in our souls, and in the souls of all who earnestly seek Him; and lastly, His eternal generation in the bosom of the Father.” — Lives of the Saints (Imprimatur 1955)

nativity scene set up in the church for Christmas.

“To run in the path of God’s commandments, we must be thoroughly convinced of God’s infinite love for us, and precisely in order to reach this conviction, we immerse ourselves in contemplation of the mystery of the Nativity.

“In fact, when we see Jesus, the eternal Word, become a child for us, and from the very first moment of His earthly life, gladly taking on all our miseries, even to the point of having nothing but a manger for a cradle, with a little hay for bedding, and poor swaddling clothes for covering…Oh, we can no longer doubt His love.

“God loves us! Jesus loves us! Yes, let us repeat it again and again, ‘We have known and have believed the charity which God hath to us’ (1 John 4:16) Lord, I believe in Your love for me! Lord, increase my faith!” — Divine Intimacy

🎄 A few ideas for celebrating the 12 days of Christmas as a family:

  • Go to Midnight Mass
  • Drive around the neighborhoods and look at Christmas lights/decor with hot cocoa & treats in hand
  • Attend daily mass as often as you’re able to during this season
  • Go Christmas caroling
  • Watch Christmas movies together with special treats
  • Build gingerbread houses
  • Bake cookies and deliver some to neighbors & friends
  • Create a nativity play with the children to enjoy together
  • Prepare for an Epiphany party
  • Read Christmas books together
Catholic Church altar set up and decorated for Christmas

🖤 Favorite products:

Here are a few of my favorite items as mentioned in this post.

Divine Intimacy

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