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The 12 Days of Christmas: Community members continue holiday celebrations

By Staff | Jan 4, 2019

Musicians play and sing along to Christmas carols and folk tunes during O'Hurley's General Store's Heritage Music Jam Session on Dec. 27. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — For many Americans, celebrating Christmas is a one-day event. But some community members continue to celebrate the holiday for 12 days, starting with Christmas Day and continuing through Jan. 5, also known as Twelfth Night.

Although the celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas has changed over the years, it is believed to have started during the Middle Ages, when each feast day represented saints or biblical people.

According to whychristmas.com, the first day of Christmas, as Christmas Day, celebrates the birth of Christ. The second day of Christmas, Saint Stephen’s Day, honors the Christian martyr, Stephen. The third day of Christmas honors Saint John the Apostle. The fourth day, The Feast of the Holy Innocents, is named in recognition of the babies who were killed by King Herod the Great in Matthew 2:16. On the fifth day of Christmas, Archbishop of Canterbury and saint Thomas Becket is remembered, for being killed for his beliefs on the same day in 1170. The sixth day of Christmas celebrates the life of Saint Egwin of Worcester and the seventh day honors Pope Sylvester I. The eighth day honors Jesus’ mother, Mary. On the ninth day of Christmas, two fourth century saints, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, are remembered. The 10th day represents the day when Jesus was taken to the temple in Jerusalem, Israel, and officially given his name, called the “Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.” The first American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, is currently remembered on the 11th day of Christmas, although the day originally celebrated Saint Simon Stylites. Twelfth Night, which was usually celebrated with large parties in the Middle Ages, is often called “Epiphany Eve,” in remembrance of the wisemen’s journey to Bethlehem. On Jan. 6, the traditional Christmas celebrations culminate with Epiphany, when the wisemen’s arrival at the home of Jesus in Bethlehem is remembered.

With almost two weeks of celebrations, Christians in Episcopalian, Lutheran and Catholic denominations do not necessarily still honor these days with feasts, as they were in the Middle Ages. But their celebrations continue in their hearts.

For the over 60 attendees at O’Hurley’s General Store’s weekly Heritage Music Jam Session on Dec. 27, that spirit of Christmas could still be heard and felt. Violin, guitar, banjo, mandolin, penny whistle, flute, harp, hammered dulcimer and lap dulcimer could all be heard, as the evening’s dozen instrumentalists took turns choosing uncopyrighted songs to play and sing together. Some of the Christmas tunes that were performed included, “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” “Joy to the World,” “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

For Charlie DeFluri, who has been jamming on his violin at O’Hurley’s General Store for over 20 years, the evening was an opportunity to also share an old Christmas tune, which many attendees were unfamiliar with.

“In the 1880s, there was this massive spurt of carol writing, and this was one of them,” DeFluri said to the audience, before leading the instrumentalists in the tune, “Keeping Vigil.”

Although the store’s jam sessions include a special Christmas one before the holiday, it also once featured a jam session in honor of Twelfth Night. While that event hasn’t been held for a few years now and the store’s Christmas decorations are taken down right after the first of the year, attendees and instrumentalists alike continue to enjoy having one more jam session filled with Christmas music on the Thursday after Christmas Day.

One last day on which to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas with like-minded members of the Shepherdstown community.