There is a lot of speculation out there about the "real" meaning of the 12 verses of the familiar song which ends, "and a partridge in a pear tree." I'm not really into the controversy over the whole thing; though if you are, Snopes.com has an interesting article debunking the idea that the song is anything other than a Christmas-themed nonsense tune. While I've found many sites promoting the song's "real" meaning, I haven't found a single source to irrefutably answer the points made in the Snopes article.
Here's where I come down on the whole thing: I don't know where the symbol connection originated, but I like it. It provides my family with a wonderful way to extend the Christmas season all the way to Epiphany, while exposing my children to easy to remember faith facts, that will hopefully come to mind anytime they hear the song. And it's been a tremendous tutorial for me on Christian symbolism!
So then, all disclaimers aside, I've been planning to do something with Twelve Days Luminaria ever since I read Meredith's Twelve Days post last year, and now that it's actually coming to pass, I couldn't be more excited about it! I had hoped to get the whole set done ahead of time (laugh if you must) in order to share them all with this post, but as usual, time gets away from me. Oh, well! I'll just go with what I have done so far, and update later with photos of the rest for anyone who may be interested. At the very least, they'll be done by the day before they're needed!! :)
A few weeks ago, Taz and Junie B. and I retrieved the Ghost Luminaria we had made for Halloween from a corner on the front porch, and cleansed them of their ghostly images. All the while, we talked about how we were "redeeming" them for use as Christmas Luminaria. It was really fun! Nail polish remover took off most of the permanent marker stain, but some would remain. That's where a little discussion of Purgatory came in--we pulled out some Bon Ami cleanser, and scrubbed off what remained. And then they were ready! (It's really fun how much learning can take place, very informally, while the kids are engaged in a completely unrelated activity. They're very receptive to fun little conversations like this, and they don't forget what they've learned, either!)
I found symbols to relate to the "real" meaning behind the song's lyrics, and sketched out my versions on scrap paper. Then I fitted the sketches to the inside of the milk jugs (the handles and spouts having already been cut off), and traced them using a permanent black marker. After that, I traced over the lines with squeezable craft paint, to make the outlines of the design stand up like stained glass lead. After that, Junie B. and I painted them using "stained glass" craft paints. A little sand to anchor the jug and a votive candle to set in the sand, and we've got us a set of Luminaria!
They are coming out so nice that The Chief has suggested getting some nice hurricane lamps or maybe large pickle jars to redo the whole thing more permanently. (I'd better start now, too, if they're to be ready by next Christmas, at the rate I'm going!!)
On Christmas Day, after Mass, Junie B. and Taz made simple little crowns using this template, and decorated them with peel-and-stick jewels leftover from Junie B.'s tea party. We already had a felt crown in the dressups bin for Sunny-boy; so now we had our "Three Kings!"
Here's how we are celebrating our little mini Light Festival: Each day after dinner, my little kings put on their crowns, and we all process with the day's candle-lit addition from the back door to the front porch singing "We Three Kings of Orient Are" (because, of course, the 12 days are symbolic of their journey to Bethlehem). We place each luminary on the front porch step just below the Creche manger, and sing the 12 Days of Christmas verse of the day. Each day, the luminary of the previous night is moved to a lower step. The plan is to fill up the stairs with all twelve luminaria--it will look a little like a grotto by the time it's done! :)
Here's a picture of each of the luminaria (I've finished 7 so far; I'll update with the rest...when they're finished!!), with a description of the symbol or picture chosen:
Three French Hens are said to signify the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, traditionally symbolized by the cross, the anchor and the heart. As a prayer upon adding this little lamp, we sang the chorus of "My God, I Believe" from the Foxhoven Family Singers' CD, Let the Children Come to Me.
Four Calling Birds: Meredith had it exactly right when she used the phrase, "Colly Birds," which apparently refers to blackbirds. I went with the song lyrics we already knew, and their suggested reference to the Four Gospel Writers. One traditional symbol for the Evangelists is that of the winged man, lion, ox and eagle, referenced in Ezekiel and Revelation. Mine turned out more like Fisher-Price "Little People" figures, but we like 'em!
Five Gold Rings: The five books of the Pentateuch--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. For our symbol, I chose five connecting rings from a traditional Wedding Ring quilting pattern (pretty sample here), making the shape of a cross. It turns out to be a very apt symbol on a number of levels: The cross shape is actually a quadrofoil, which is another symbol of the Gospel writers. Thus, the revelation of the Lord to his Chosen People is "married" to the revelation of the Lord in Christ Jesus through the Gospels. I also liked that I could make out the Christian "Fish" symbol encircling the center ring, which I painted red for emphasis. I think this has turned out to be the one I like the best!
Six Geese a-Laying: Six days of Creation. The goose head is from an ABC coloring page (the whole picture is of the letter G), and the nest is from Microsoft clipart. I tried to draw something depicting each day of creation on the eggs, but they're a little hard to make out. Oh, and we decided to make the goose a Canada Goose, in honor of the pair that nested at our pond last spring!
Eight Maids a-Milking: This is supposed to refer to the Beatitudes. The symbol for those is the Maltese Cross, which sports 8 points. This symbol has a special meaning for us, since the Maltese Cross is also the symbol for Fire Service. We're going with the style traditionally used on Fire Department Insignia for the same reason,
emphasizing the 8 points with little "starbursts." adding a Monstrance to the center to replace the Fire Gear symbols.
Nine Ladies Dancing: These would be the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. I have a couple of designs I'm working on at this writing, both of which are a little too labor intensive at this point, I'm afraid. Maybe I'll just make a fruit tree (though I think an apple tree, with its connection to the Fall, wouldn't seem right!) Update: I went with this delightful (!) design following a brainstorm. My husband thinks it looks like feet juggling. Oh well! You can't win 'em all. At least it was quicker than what I'd originally thought of, and, well...it's done. :)
Ten Pipers Piping: the Ten Commandments, of course. I like the connection to the idea of "paying the piper"--being called to take responsibility for one's choices. And the symbol is easy and obvious! I like dividing the commandments by their focus: The first three deal with our relationship with God; the remaining seven with our relationship with each other. (Update: I'm not really happy with the paint job or the color--I wanted gray, but all I had to work with was purple, white and brown. And this is what you get from that...) :)
Eleven Lords a-Leaping: The eleven faithful apostles. I've sketched a cross, with eleven very simple figures gathered in the quadrants, their identity made obvious (I hope) by the presence of the Tongues of Fire that came down upon them on Pentecost.
Twelve Drummers Drumming: The Twelve Points of the Creed, signified by an unfurled scroll. (The scroll template came from a google image search, that led to a blank scroll on kidsdomain.com.)
I'll add a picture of the whole Twelve Days Luminaria in front of the Creche, as soon as they're all present and accounted for!