1. There’s much more to the Twelve Days of Christmas than the famous carol. The Twelve Days, also known as Christmastide and Yuletide, are a 12-day season of celebration, gift-giving and relaxing of restrictions that was once as popular as the one-day celebration of Christmas is today.
2. The Twelve Days come after Christmas Day, not before! Besides confusing the Twelve Days with a countdown to Christmas, there is also some debate about whether they start on December 25 or 26. The historical evidence best supports December 26 as the First Day of Christmas, and January 6 - Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day - as the Twelfth Day.
3. In times past, Twelfth Night was the grand finale of the Yuletide season filled with dances, feasts and revels. So why was Twelfth Night celebrated on the evening of January 5th, not the 6th? This is because in days gone by people considered the evening the start of a new day, not midnight as we do today. Likewise, the first night of the Twelve Days of Christmas is the evening of December 25th.
4. Why 12 days? Many social historians believe that the timing and duration of the Christmas season are inherited from pre-Christian midwinter festivals that coincided with the Winter Solstice. Early peoples also reckoned time by the moon, and over the course of a year, there is roughly a 12-day difference between the solar and lunar calendars. This 12-day difference was set aside as a special "time out of time", filled with supernatural events and folklore.
5. In some medieval cultures, the Twelve Nights was a time that evil spirits roamed. Some also believed that immoral men could be transformed into werewolves for the duration of the Twelve Days.
6. Special food and drink traditions abound during the Twelve Days, beginning with Christmas and continuing at New Year. Twelfth Night has its own traditions: toasting with wassail and special cakes variously called Twelfth Night Cakes, Bean Cakes or Kings' Cakes filled with good luck charms.
7. Burning the Yule Log throughout the Twelve Days was an ancient custom to protect the home and the family gathered there during this period. The Yule Log tradition still lingers – at least for a few hours – in its annual appearance on cable TV, and in cakes shaped like Yule Logs.
8. Although Santa Claus is the most well-known dispenser of gifts, there are a number of other mystical gift-bringers around the world who arrive and depart during the Twelve Days. Among them: the Befana, the Babushka, Frau Holle, the mischievous Nordic Yule elves and the Three Kings.
9. The Twelve Days of Christmas is one of the oldest Christmas carols still sung today. Like other aspects of the Twelve Days, its origin is a matter of debate, but there is strong evidence that it dates to at least the 16th century and is likely even older.
10. All of the gifts mentioned in the carol really add up – 364 gifts in all! The cost of giving all the gifts in the carol – the so-called Christmas Price Index – exceeded $100,000 for the first time in 2011.
11. The Twelve Days carol was once a popular party game in the 1700-1800s where making a mistake in the lyrics meant you would have to give up a small token, sweet, or perhaps even a kiss!
12. The often-repeated tale that the lyrics of the Twelve Days carol were a secret code designed to help Catholics living in Protestant England remember religious doctrine is simply a modern day Christmas myth that lives on in the internet despite having been debunked.