The Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas – meaning December 25th – seems to be the sum total of the ‘season’ for most people.  Try wishing someone a ‘happy holiday’ on the 26th and see the startled expression: you will think you misspoke.  But the season is twelve days long, continuing past New Years by six more days, and you can repeat the greeting for nearly two weeks more.

Celebrating a full twelve-day season is more than just recalling the popular song: it is a celebration that dates back to the 4th century, linking the Nativity and Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th.) This date is sometimes called Little Christmas, although its original significance as the day Jesus was baptized is often overlooked. By the 9th century, the English monarch increased the days of celebration officially, making the twelve days of Christmas an extended time of revelry.

Where did the idea go?  Why do we not recall it today?  Some say it was economic reality and the need to work that caused Christmas to shrink in length of celebration.  Sad to say, one can find Christmas trees in the trash on the 26th when they could bring a bit of greenery and lights to homes for nearly two weeks’ of Winter’s darkest period.

To wait until Twelfth Night through Epiphany (January 5th and 6th) and make a modern day tradition of packing away the ornaments and decorations on “Little Christmas” is much more enjoyable.  And in the B&Bs, guests and innkeepers alike can celebrate for the full season.  Even better, one can begin anew on with Russian Christmas on January 7th and continue for another twelve days!

In truth, there are many cultural traditions to celebrate: Hanukkah spans eight days of traditional meals and celebrations with a beginning date that can be any time between late November and late December. It is sometimes called the Festival of Lights and like the twelve days of Christmas, marks a season of joy.

At some local B&Bs, this season is a time of rest for inn keepers. Others continue to host guests and to offer a non-commercial setting for keeping family traditions.  Try a recipe for latkes to serve at the breakfast table.  This one is based on my grandmother’s recipe brought to the US from Russian Poland:

2 lbs (1 kg) potatoes, grated
1 lbs onion, chopped
2 large eggs
2 T flour
Oil for frying
Peel the vegetables. Finely grate the potatoes (a food processor with a grating blade is helpful). Immediately place in cold water, then drain and squeeze them dry by hand-pressing in a colander. This removes the liquid which is starchy, preventing the latkes from being soggy. Add finely chopped onion and sprinkle with flour.
Beat eggs with salt and pepper to taste (start with a pinch), add to potato/onion mix, and stir well. Film the bottom of a frying pan with oil and heat. Drop 1/4 cup amounts on the hot oil. Flatten with the spatula, and lower the heat to cook throughly. When one side is reddish brown, turn over and brown the other. Cool on paper towel while cooking the others.

Serve very hot with a side of sour cream and jam – or enjoy just plain.  You can also make these without onions if you want a plainer style.

Some think of these as fritters or blinis: there are many similar recipes from many cultures. My aunt would make enough to have leftovers which she would cool, then wrap in waxed paper for that day’s lunch meal. I remember the color, the texture, the aroma and the taste and it has been 35+ years since she would have made that treat.  

And to you, happy holidays.  We hope you hold the traditions of your culture, your family, your choice.  

Want to know more?

Mary M Rydesky
Owner/Innkeeper JarviHomestay
Member Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

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