Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Ilonka Karasz ~ Harper and Row 1949

Now, I was raised an Episcopalian, but as an adult, I've have let my religious nature lapse a bit for many different reasons. I'm less on organized religion now and more on finding peace and love in your heart wherever you might find it... be it a church or in the woods or in quiet moments with your family. No matter what the religion or who or what you believe in, I think, at it's core, the love and the peace is what religion is supposed to be about, no?

Before I spark a religious debate (we are here to talk about books, after all), I also celebrate Christmas in my house for a number of different reasons. I try and teach my son about all different walks of life, so that some day, if he chooses, he can find his own path, he own way through the mysteries of life.

Though you probably won't find me teaching bible school anytime soon, even I'm shocked and surprised when people don't know (historically speaking) what the twelfth night of Christmas is. The way I understood it as a child (correct me if I'm wrong) was that January 6 was the twelfth night after Christmas, the night the wise men finally arrive at the manger and an epiphany occurs revealing Jesus to be the son of God. Growing up, it was always a special night as it was traditionally the day when Christmas trees would come down and the whole town would gather and have a giant bonfire. We'd bring fire from the church in the form of everyone carrying small candles, and together, we would light the trees aflame and sing carols until the entire lot burned down. It was magical. But anyways... most people know the song, if not it's origin. Just in case, here's a little refresher...

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Two Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

... and so on and so forth...

Twelfth night dates and stories change from culture to culture, so check out the Wiki page, because it's fascinating to read about the different ways that different people celebrate the day.

Brought to life here by the famed Hungarian designer, I apologize for these scans, as they do no justice to the delicate nature of the illustrations. Being as the book is old and browning, it was hard to recreate the soft focus without losing the pictures altogether, so I had to boost the color a bit.

We Too Were Children has a little more history on the illustrator as well as a few full page scans if you want to know more.


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  1. Fantastic and informative post! I somewhat ashamed to admit that I wasn't aware of the 'back-story' either. My excuse - I was raised a heathen and remain one to this day. But I've always had a fondness for this particular Christmas carol (and we celebrate in our house too). We've enjoyed Jan Brett's version in the past and most recently we've been enjoying Hilary Knight's.

  2. As much as I love Hillary Knight, I am tempted to throw that book away. The boy makes me read it at least once a day as soon as it comes out of the attic and I am so tired of it already! I don't know what it is, but that book makes my son insane, in a good way. I almost posted on it today, but then picked this one instead... maybe I'll get around to it.

  3. Oh, these illustrations are gorgeous! Thanks once again for introducing me to a new one I must have...

  4. Oh funny! Our kids are two peas in a pod! It's been much requested night after night in our house too! I've actually just left it in her room because I know we'll probably be reading it every night until we leave for holiday. That Hilary Knight is a wily one! Another one that we've literally worn out is his Owl and the Pussy Cat. I want to marry that dang book! And I'm not sure if you know this, but we discovered Where's Wallace via your blog and that's another big favorite around these parts!

  5. I so glad you mentioned the 12th day being January 6th. It's always a been a rather benign pet peeve when people think it's the 12 days before Christmas. We celebrated the Epiphany when I was a kid with the cake and the baby Jesus put toys in our shoes. So we found gifties in our stockings 12/6, had Santa Claus then baby Jesus, so spoiled :>
    I WANT this book!