How were the "Twelve Days" of Christmas traditionally observed?

Aside from all the partridge-in-a-pear-tree jazz, what did people formerly do during the period spanning Christmas Day to Epiphany? Were those two days simply observed separately, with the days inbetween nothing special? Or was there an extended winter vacation slacking off of the daily grind for that period? Would anyone really have given a loved one a gift a day for twelve days?

Well, over on Wikipedia, the history of the twelve days of Christmas, as distinct from the song, is nicely laid out. In the Middle Ages, at least, it was 12 straight days of feasting. I don’t really know how wide-spread the tradition was, but it meshes well with ancient pagan rituals, like Saturnalia, and you can conjecture – it occurs during the shortest days of the year, when time for work would have been limited, anyway.

If you need better info, you can start with the wikipedia references, and see where that takes you.

Another tradition that has not completely died out in England is Plough Monday. This was the first Monday after Epiphany and was the day that farm-workers went back to work after their 12 days break. This mid-winter break was probably their only time off in the whole farming year.

I missed this thread earlier, but it’s still topical.

The period between Christmas and Epiphany was, and still is, marked by the celebration of the feasts of the comites Christi (‘companions of Christ’), those saints whose feastdays fall in the week following Christmas:

  • Saint Stephen on 26 December;
  • Saint John on 27 December;
  • the Holy Innocents on 28 December (‘Childermas’);
  • Saint Thomas Becket on 29 December;
  • Saint Sylvester on 31 December.