What Are the "12 Days of Christmas"?

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The 12 days of Christmas are the 12 days between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, on Jan. 6. There is some confusion about which dates actually end and begin the 12 days. The Church of England counts Dec. 25, Christmas Day, as the first day and Jan. 5 as the 12th day. Other individuals and organizations start on Dec. 26 and consider Jan. 6 to be the 12th day.

In the Catholic church, the 12 days of Christmas is known as Christmas season, while the period of time before Christmas is known as Advent. The Epiphany is the celebration of the day when the three wise men reached the baby Jesus to deliver their gifts, and this holiday is considered the beginning of Carnival season. In some cultures, each of the 12 days is celebrated by exchanging small gifts, and the eve of the Epiphany is reserved for feasts and parties. The final evening of the 12 days of Christmas is also called Twelfth Night, and the Shakespeare play of the same name is about events that take place on this night. In cultures and households that celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, it is typically considered unlucky to leave Christmas decorations up after the 12th day.