How Many Days of Christmas?

The Christmas season is upon us and we are enjoying watching Emma and Hannah learn about the Christmas story.  We are doing a few new things this year with them in mind, and it’s been fun to watch.  At the same time, I wonder what confusion they may be experiencing, particularly with the “days of Christmas” in the land of Egypt. First, a new song.

Last month, a good friend gave the girls a new book called, “The Twelve New Days of Christmas”, by Bonnie Fite.  It’s a great new rendition of the old song many of us are familiar with, but it uses elements from the Bible story instead of some odd combination of birds and musicians.  Emma already has the whole thing memorized and Hannah is close behind (see video here).   What a perfect way to learn all the different parts of Jesus’ story of arrival on this earth.

The song goes like this:

  • On the first day of Christmas, my true Lord gave to me, the Babe in a manger bed.
  • 2nd – two earthly parents
  • 3rd – three wise men
  • 4th – four elder saints (referring to Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of Jesus’ cousin, John; and also, Simeon and Anna, two saints at the temple)
  • 5th – five Roman guards (referring to the only sad part of the Christmas story where King Herod sends his soldiers to kill the babies in Bethlehem)
  • 6th – six chickens clucking (the author admits to taking some liberties here, but says that certainly there were chickens in the stable with Jesus)
  • 7th – seven kings in waiting (referring to seven good kings in the line of Jesus in the Old Testament days)
  • 8th – eight shepherds praising
  • 9th – nine sheep a-bleating
  • 10th – ten prophets predicting (referring to those who prophesied the coming Messiah)
  • 11th – eleven people sleeping (referring to all the people visiting Bethlehem for the census)
  • 12th – twelve thousand angels (with the shepherds at the manger)

So this started our “days of Christmas” with the idea of twelve days.

Meanwhile, last year we bought a wall hanging Christmas tree that also works as an advent calendar.  We bought it from the people who do handiwork at the recycling center in Muqattam, otherwise known as ‘Trash City’, here in Cairo.   But last year we didn’t use it as an advent calendar as it required some thinking about what could actually fit on the hanging.  My mom and niece and nephews helped out this year and sent us some great little ornaments to pull out each day, so now we can use it and count down the twenty-four days until Christmas!

To add to this number confusion, in Egypt, we will celebrate Christmas on two different dates, December 25 and January 7. Most of Egypt’s Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox church, and they celebrate Jesus’ birth on January 7.  However, we are Western Christians and have always celebrated on December 25 as much of the world does, and so, we will have some sort of celebration on each of the days.  One other item that is mildly confusing is that many of our Egyptian Muslim friends, and even some Christian ones, seem to assume that we celebrate Christmas on December 31; I suppose this is because the televised celebrations in America are much more pronounced on that day.  They see fireworks and big parties and people “counting down to the New Year” and assume this is our big holiday.  You might say we have three Christmas dates to consider.

So all these things may confuse our preschoolers as to when Christmas actually is, but we’re thankful they are learning more about the Biblical story and less about the ever-present Santa Claus.  This is the first year we put out a play nativity scene which they enjoy every morning, acting out Mary and Joseph in the stable, the angels announcing the baby’s birth, the shepherds coming to see the baby and the wise men going on a long journey to find baby Jesus in Bethlehem.  (We hide the wise men somewhere in the house after they go to sleep.)

Emma and Hannah are learning familiar Christmas carols like “Away in a Manger” and “Joy to the World,” and belting them out for all to hear.  Emma even may sing in her first Christmas concert this year, appropriately enough, on New Year’s Eve.  So whatever date you celebrate and whatever your traditions may be, our family wishes you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and then another Merry Christmas.

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