Thursday, November 29, 2012

Catholic History – 12 Days of Christmas and Advent


by M. J. Joachim
So here I am researching the history of Advent, a topic that seems to be muddier with each new resource I read, when I came across something that fully intrigues me like you wouldn’t believe.

I’m well aware that England had a major problem with Catholics in her history. That’s why Parliament broke away from the Catholic Church and numerous Christian denominations began practicing their own specific beliefs. It all goes back to the religious persecutions that took place from 1558 to 1829, when it was [literally] a crime to be Catholic in England, that is until Parliament emancipated Catholics there, nullifying the crime and punishment part.

Of course, Catholics will be Catholic, even underground.

Hey, if the early Church can do it…

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”

I’ll admit, we drove our parents crazy with the song when we were young…

It was beyond uncool to sing, by the time we were teenagers…

And as adults, it became one of those ones like “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do…” that soon became one of our children’s favorites, if only to torture their parents with…

But The Twelve Days of Christmas – a hidden code for Catholic beliefs in England, when being Catholic was a crime there? Who knew? I guess you and I do now J

True love = God
2 turtle doves = Old and New Testaments of the Bible
3 French hens = faith, hope and charity
4 calling birds = four Gospels and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
5 golden rings = the Pentateuch, which are the first 5 books of the Old Testament
6 geese a-laying = six days of creation
7 swans a-swimming = seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – seven sacraments
8 maids a-milking = eight beatitudes
9 ladies dancing = nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 lords a leaping = Ten Commandments
11 pipers piping = eleven faithful apostles
12 drummers drumming = twelve points in the Apostle’s Creed


History of Advent

As for the history of Advent, it’s pretty safe to say Advent didn’t begin until Christmas became an accepted Christian holiday, which happened on Constantine’s watch, after his conversion, sometime during the latter part of the 4th Century, under Pope Gregory the Great’s reign. (Don’t hold me to it – I read sources that claimed Advent started in the 2nd Century too.)

Regardless of the exact commencement dates of Advent, it is important to note that everyone agrees Advent is a time of preparation – mirroring the Lenten season, as it were. As the liturgical season of Advent evolved, it became less a penitential time, and more of a reflective, not giddy – but joyful time, of preparing for the Lord’s birth.


Early on, Advent was a time of penance and fasting, as was customary and traditional during times prior to major feast days. Today, while being less penance driven and more anticipatory, Advent remains a time to reflect on and repent of our sins against God, albeit in a much more positive sense. We are to strive to be the Christians we were born to be, children of God modeling Christ’s goodness in our world.

Christ is the light in our darkness and the reason for the season.

A thought from one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Christmas Box, seems to say it all, “The first gift of Christmas is a child.”

…and oh boy, if that’s not an argument in favor of protecting the unborn, I’m not sure what qualifies!

Best of the season to you all!

M. J.

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Photo Credits: Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain, James II - the last Catholic monarch to reign in England; Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution