Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: The “Three Wise Men” (named Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar). Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of a Ravennate italian-byzantine workshop, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”. Photo from Wikipedia – photo credit: Nina Aldin Thune.
Although there may be some disagreement about that. Some traditions count Christmas day itself as the first day of the twelve days, and some count the day after Christmas as the first day of the twelve days, so I guess it depends on your tradition. At any rate, the traditional Christmas celebration doesn’t start until late Christmas Eve, and continues on through the feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
There’s something satisfyingly counter-cultural about waiting until Christmas Eve to begin celebrating the holiday instead of starting at Halloween when all the commercial hype and hoopla start to appear. And of course being late appeals to my Inner Procrastinator. I think most of all, I’ve really enjoyed learning more this year about ways that people through the past two centuries have been inspired to place themselves into the traditional Christmas stories and re-create them through writing, music, poetry, art, ritual and tradition. It’s given me some ideas that I’d like to try next year.
Reading about Twelfth Night last night, I found the above mosaic, and this old passage, which in turn inspired T. S. Eliot in writing his poem The Journey of the Magi:
“A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, “the very dead of winter.” – from Lancelot Andrewes’s “Nativity Sermon” of 16222 years ago