Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas

In closing out the Christmas season in true traditional form, and since it's the eve of the 5th, Twelfth Night, and most likely you'll be reading this close to January 6th, Twelfth Day, I'd like to share with you our latest.  This year, Nana gifted The Twelve Days of Christmas, and I'm just wild about the edition she chose, the most beautiful one out there, by Gennady Spirin.  Now what I find most fascinating about illustrator Gennady Spirin is not that he grew up near Moscow nor that he received five golden medals (sorry, I just had to) from various artistic societies nor that he is now a U.S. citizen.  Indeed, I find most interesting that Spirin was born on Christmas Day.  Now do you think this detail lends to the brilliant composition of his Christmas books?  I can't help but attribute the likelihood.

What also came as a surprise to me was Spirin's medium: watercolor and colored pencil.  His illustrations reflect the boldness and brilliance of the Renaissance, not at all reflective of typical watercolor scenes.  Unbeknowst to Nana, I had checked out all the editions of The Twelve Days of Christmas that our library offered, without finding a copy that met my expectations.  Gennady Spirin presented a pleasant surprise because what I like best about this edition is that it's how I envision the carol to be illustrated in accordance with it's history.  Thank you Mr. Spirin!  I'm discovering Gennady Spirin's books to be rare gems with illustrations to feast your eyes upon.

Now for a little history on this "Twelve Days of Christmas" song that the kids beg to be repeated but that we parents would personally rather hit "skip" for the rest of our lives.  Hold that impulse!  Before you hit "skip" for the up-teenth time, be forewarned: it appears our predecessors understood the importance of repetition and memory games long before medical research journals informed us of modern day benefits.
  • Yes, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" seems to have originated as a memory game that children played on Twelfth Night, wherein whoever forgot the line that fell to them had to forfeit a possession.
  • In 1780, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" manifested in print for the first time in an English children's book entitled Mirth Without Mischief.
  • Twelfth Night traditionally occurred on the night of December 5th with Twelfth Day following on December 6th.  
  • The twelve days following Christmas Day held great festivities during the Middle Ages up until the nineteenth century, with the grand celebration on Twelfth Night serving as the culmination of all preceding revelry (further construing the title of Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night, wherein the festivity serves as a springboard for a comedy aimed at merrymaking, folly, and masquerade).  
  • In historical church order, Twelfth Day marks the Epiphany, the day marking when the Magi offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child.  
Whew! and to think I cut out much, much more historical information from that summary, which is clearly more for you parents' benefit.

So the next time the kids want to listen to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" over and over, just plop them down with Spirin's book and consider the activity as memory and counting enhancement without any work on your part.


  1. Such an informative post, Emily - take a bow! I'm most intrigued about this one. Thanks for the heads-up. J x

  2. I had wanted to do a post on this one last month - photographing the swans, etc. But had trouble finding a partridge and lords that would agree to leap for the camera.

    I think I've told you before that I loved working in the library, not just for the words, but for the artwork as well. It is a museum of artwork in itself.

    I am stunned by the artwork on this one. I am really intriqued by his mixed media choice. Thank you for the history lesson too ;) XOL