I opened the front door and was confronted by a ladder. Was a burgular climbing in at our upper window? No, a civic employee was removing the civic Christmas tree that had been planted in a civic socket on the front of the house, as on all the other buildings down the town’s main street, during the Christmas season.
Today is that season’s end, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. So the civic decorations come down, including the vastly larger Christmas tree that was erected amid crowds and carols on the first day (whenever that was) of the season. But the strings of twinkling lights across the street remain: the town, which depends on tourism, manages to find pretexts in most seasons for making the street look festive with overhead festoons of lights or pennants, one of them also suspended from the eaves of our house.
From December 25 to January 6 is 13 days inclusive, that is, if you count both of those days, or 12 if you subtract one from the other. The span of twelve days is said to be that between the visits to the new-born Jesus made by the shepherds and by the Magi. It is also said to correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac – though that could be said of anything twelvish, and “day” is not a unit of time that seems relatable to the Zodiac.
There is an interesting relation, or confusion, between the Twelfth Day of Christmas and the Eastern Orthodox Christmas. They used to fall on the same day, January 6, so that some (including myself) harbored a vague idea that they still do and that they are the same thing. Actually, the Eastern Christmas is the same day as the western, December 25 – but in the old Julian calendar whose slightly-too-long year was shortened into the Gregorian calendar by having fewer leap-days. From 1800 onward, the two calendars differed by 12 days, so that December 25 Julian fell on January 6 Gregorian. The next year with a Julian and not a Gregorian leap-day was 1900, so that since then the difference has been 13 days, and Eastern Christmas (Dec. 25 Julian) now falls on Jan. 7 (Gregorian). The difference will grow by another day in 2100.
Before I ceased discussing this background in the Astronomical Calendar – instead of giving simple uncontroversial lines “Jan. 7: Eastern Orthodox Christmas” and “Jan. 14: This day is Jan. 1 in the Julian calendar” – I used to receive, and store for further thought, extensive messages from people who knew better than me. So if you are another of those, I welcome correspondence.
And if you smiled at my spelling of “burgular,” please remind me which Gilbert and Sullivan opera I’m remembering it from.