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The Twelve Days of Christmas — Weekly Christian ed lesson

When I was young, my favorite Christmas carol was “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I remember having a great sense of satisfaction when I finally mastered the lyrics. I was even more excited when I learned that the song reflected a real tradition. Christmas wasn’t just one day out of the year! It was a period of twelve days extending from December 25 through Epiphany. This doesn’t mean twelve days of presents, goodies, and time off of school; however, it is a time to celebrate and lean into what it means to have God among us. In this lesson, children will explore ways they can reflect on and experience the gift of Jesus’ birth.

Begin your time with the children by asking them to share what Christmas means to them. What do they love about Christmas? What makes Christmas a special day? Encourage them to share any and all ideas, even if they aren’t related to Jesus’ birth. Note that there are many aspects of Christmas that we love. We may even wish they would last more than one day.

Share with the children that our celebration of Christmas as the day Jesus was born actually extends 12 days. From December 25 until Epiphany, we consider ourselves “in” Christmas.

Over time different cultures and Christian denominations have set aside particular days between Christmas and Epiphany to acknowledge and honor various Biblical figures and religious leaders.

Together with the children, explore one of these resources about the 12 days of Christmas. If you’re working with young children, you may want to summarize the information on these websites, as they may be challenging for them to read:

The 12 Days of Christmas: The Origins and History — This website gives a written account of the history of the twelve days of Christmas. It lists the religious feasts and celebrations various cultures and denominations have ascribed to each day.

The Days Between Christmas and Epiphany — Scroll down to “The Days Between Christmas and Epiphany” on this entry from the World Atlas. It offers a good explanation for why Christians set aside these 12 days to celebrate Christmas as well as provides a list of religious feasts and celebrations from around the world.

After reading about the twelve days of Christmas, ask the children to wonder about the traditions that have developed around particular days. Which do they celebrate or wish they celebrated? How might particular celebrations be meaningful to the people participating in them?

Conclude your time together by creating a 12 days of Christmas calendar. Note that during Advent, we often have a calendar of activities or devotions we engage in to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ birth on Christmas day. We can continue to celebrate this glorious event through the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany by developing activities or prayers that will guide us through this period.

Print out one or more copies of this twelve days of Christmas calendar: twelve_days_christmas_calendar_outlook.

Together with the children, brainstorm a list of possible activities, prayers, or readings that celebrate Jesus’ birth. These may be opportunities to learn about or reflect on what it means to have God among us in Jesus. They may be actions that reflect Jesus’ ministry on earth. They may even be events or activities that are a part of the traditions the children learned about as they read one of the websites on the twelve days of Christmas.

After creating this list, select eleven that can become part of your 12 Days of Christmas calendar. (NOTE: Christmas is the first of the 12 days and they have already celebrated this holiday.) Then, assign them to the twelve days on the calendar you printed out. Make sure each child has a copy of the calendar with its corresponding activities. Encourage them to try out each of the activities with their families.