12 days of Christmas is all about the festivities that start after the Christmas Day. It starts on the evening of 26th December and continue till Epiphany, which is 6th January. Turtle Doves, French Hens, Calling Birds and Golden Rings are some of the traditional symbols of 12 days of Christmas.
Origin of the Festival
The 12 days is an old festival steeped in tradition. Different churches and sects of Christianity have changed the traditions over the centuries.
The 12 days of Christmas give an account of continuous revelry and great joy in the Middle Ages. Youngsters in the Catholic families had to learn by heart the canon of their faith, contained in the song of twelve days of Christmas. This was the normal custom as any written document could cause trouble.
The words were all symbolic, and "true love" as mentioned here refers to the God just as "me" refers to a baptized person. The other living beings mentioned in the song, for example, hen or geese or swan is also symbolic. During the 12 days of Christmas social rules were remarkably slack and it was a common sight to see men dressed as women and vice versa. Servants in the family got a better treatment from their masters.
The American colonists carried their version of the festivities from England to their country and added variations to them over the years. The Christmas wreath, for example, is believed by many to be an adaptation of these colonists of the original tradition.
The American Adaptation
In the present day US, some celebrate the festival by giving gifts each of the 12 days and by feasting and celebrating till the Epiphany. Some Americans also light candles on each of these 12 days.
In UK, the festival is celebrated following many of the traditional customs, like feasting on plum pudding and roasted goose. Boxing Day, celebrated as part of the festivities, is a national holiday in a number of Commonwealth nations.
The 12 days of Christmas song is a combination of verses. Over the years each verse has had some additions or a new one was created based on the older version. It is an English Christmas Carol. It speaks of a series of gifts given on each day of Christmas.