The Christmas Carol, “the 12 days of Christmas,” has been called the “most annoying” of all Christmas carols and perhaps “the most effective way to annoy family members on road trips.”  I agree. 

Video on the history of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song. Originally posted to YouTube by Today I Found Out.

Its basic meaning was to remember the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany. Consumer capitalism emphasizes the front end of Christmas as the time to shop and keep stores in business and consumerism going and “black Friday” promising unheard of bargain basement sales does the same post-Christmas.  

Yet the far older tradition was to celebrate 12 days that follow Christmas day itself up to the climax of the Christmas season which is Epiphany, the showing of the Christ child to the greater world represented by the visiting magi who we are told followed a star to Bethlehem to find Jesus in the manger.  

“La Sagrada Familia” by Kelly Latimore, Iconographer. Reprinted by permission; see his gallery of powerful images.

Thus the Christmas season extends from Advent (four weeks preceding Christmas) to Epiphany (12 days following Christmas)—a total of about 40 days which has a long lineage in Biblical story telling—40 years wandering in the desert, 40 days of Jesus fasting in the desert after his baptism, etc.  And quarantine, forty days that sailors are to stay on the ship before embarking during the time of the bubonic plague to test whether they were bringing the plague with them or not.  A practice adapted today obviously to our own version of a plague.

In the spirit of “12 days of (meaning following) Christmas,” I share beginning this day after Christmas 12 offerings from twentieth century mystics apropos of Christmas season to our DM readers.

Let us begin with wisdom from theologian Dorothy Soelle:

Short interview of Keith McHenry, one of the eight co-initiators of Food Not Bombs (FNB), an international decentralized movement of autonomous volunteers who give free food as an act of prophetic protest against consumer capitalism, war/militarism, and animal/eco devastation. Our team member, Rev. Jerry, is a volunteer with the Houston chapter of FNB. Originally posted to YouTube by OPIRG McMaster.

The goal of the Christian religion is not the idolizing of Christ, not Christolatry, but that we all “are in Christ,’ as the mystical expressions goes, that we ha part in the life of Christ.  This savior is a wounded healer, and he heals so that we may become as he is.  Be as he is, laugh as he laughs, weep as he weeps.  Heal the sick, even those who without knowing it have contracted the great neuroses of our society, who know no mercy within themselves and their children when they consent to the nuclear state and technologies inimical to life.  

Food Not Bombs flyer taken from the Houston FNB website.

To feed the hungry means to do away with militarism.  To bless the children means to leave the trees standing for them.*  

Soelle is warning us about a form of idolatry she calls “Christolatry.”  She argues instead for a mystical understand of Christ, namely to be “in Christ,” to share in the life of Christ and to heal, laugh, weep and heal as he did.  Actions follow that bless children and future generations ‘”by leaving trees standing for them,” by combatting climate change and working to heal Mother Earth.  

Mysticism heals religion when religion goes off balance and idolatrous and it necessarily leads to action.  As William Hocking put it, “the prophet is the mystic in action.”  Jesus was such a mystic and prophet.


* Dorothee Soelle, Theology for Skeptics: Reflections on God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), p. 92.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 274.

Banner Image: “Elders’ Art Class.” Photo by Monkey Business, Adobe Stock

What does “feed the hungry” mean to you?  What does “bless the children” mean to you?

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2 thoughts on “From Annoying Christmas Carols to Mystic Wisdom”

  1. Avatar
    Linda+Chamberlain

    In our family’s tradition (adapted from its Polish roots) on Christmas Eve (not this year as a large group) following dinner with some years up to 40 people of all ages, those who are so inclined will gather at the piano and commence to sing through a booklet of a verse or more of 20 some seasonal songs and carols compiled by a cousin among them The Twelve Days of Christmas. The great grands sit on the couch, the littlest dance around, and the rest stand to sing. Some among us would agree that The Twelve Days is intolerably long but sung by those who enjoy participating, spread out enough so that the hand and body motions accompany the singing, causes wonderful silliness and joy as people try to keep up with the “dance” before moving on to the next song.

  2. Avatar

    Thank you Matt for this meditation. And thank you for the video Food Not Bombs. What a fabulous was to start the Epiphany! As FNBs points out, not only is vegan food a great way to feed the hungry but also a great way to protect the planet. Also, if I may suggest, another effective way to feed the hungry and resist the bomb is to not pay for bombs on April 15 with our federal taxes. I’ve been a war tax resistor most my life. It’s very easy and brings a lightness to my heart.

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