In America, we are used to thinking of the week between Christmas and New Years Day as a special time. Schools are closed, and parents often try to take part of the week off from work. Our modern celebration is short compared with times past when the Christmas holiday went on considerably longer.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Legends claim the Twelve Days of Christmas represent the time the wise men spent looking for baby Jesus. According to these, the wise men should be left out of nativity scenes until Epiphany on January 6. Epiphany marks the date that the world discovered Jesus and honored him with gifts. In Italy and countries influenced by Spain, gifts are given on Epiphany, not Christmas Day.
Was Jesus born on December 25?
Many experts have tried to show that Jesus was born in the spring or summer, or almost any time other than the winter solstice. Some theories appear to have merit based on astronomical events that could explain the Star of Bethlehem. Supernovae and conjunctions of planets are possible causes of the bright light seen by the wise men.
So far, none of the theories based in astronomy have been widely accepted. [Another bit of evidence to support an earlier time of the year for the birth of Jesus is the timing of the census mentioned in Luke 2:1-2, which appears to have been taken in the autumn of 3 B.C.]
A remaining theory argues that flocks of sheep would have been driven from the hills before winter began. Instead of seeing the Star of Bethlehem while watching their flocks on a winter night, the theory claims that shepherds likely saw the Star in more hospitable weather during spring or summer. Here is a chance for Idaho farm boys and girls to make a contribution to the debate. During a mild winter, sheep can find green plants to nibble in fields of the Boise Valley and surrounding foothills. Winters in the foothills of Judea tend to be less severe than in Idaho. The weather is often no worse for sheep and shepherds in December than it is in the raw days of early spring when flocks customarily move out from winter quarters. Perhaps the sheep even enjoy a late December excursion through the hills, eating crisp greenery instead of their usual Idaho winter diet of hay and onions!
The Twenty and Twenty-four Days of Christmas
Christmas celebrations end on St. Canute’s Day, January 13, in Norway and Sweden. St. Canute, or St. Knut, was a Danish nobleman who lived during the twelfth century. Swedish celebrations begin on St. Lucy’s Day (December 13), but Swedes refer to St. Canute’s Day as the Twentieth Day of Christmas, when holiday decorations are taken down.
On the Shetland Islands of Scotland, the people have bonfires on January 29. That is the Twenty-fourth Day of Christmas, Old Style. Christmas Old Style refers to December 25 on the Julian calendar. Christmas and the winter solstice were originally on the same day. The Julian calendar was slightly inaccurate, and over centuries December 25 drifted away from the shortest day of the year. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, what had been December 25 became January 5. People on the Shetland Islands continued to celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar.

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