Eight octave days, culminating in a New Year.
Twelve days before Epiphany.
Forty days until the Presentation.
This is how we count the days of Christmas. The octave and forty days are biblical, prescribed by the Mosaic Law for Circumcision and the dedication in the Temple of a male who opens his mother’s womb. Through these days, we mark the life of Christ and the mysteries of our salvation. But there is also a mystical element leading to the Epiphany with the miraculous manifestation of Christ’s identity—the breaking forth of a new, divine reality into the world.
The twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany are not biblical, but reflect the ancient connection between the great feasts. Epiphany and Christmas arose together (at least in the East), commemorating the coming of Christ into the world. Epiphany does not just happen to follow on the heels of Christmas, but completes it: Christ enters into the world and is then manifested to it. The shepherds are the first to receive the Good News of the coming of the Messiah at his birth, followed by the wise men.
The wise men symbolize the manifestation of Christ to the nations. The twelve days preceding may represent the fulness of the people of God. The feast celebrates the manifestation of Christ in the worship of the wise men, Christ’s Baptism, and the Wedding of Cana, though we tend to focus only on the first of these three mysteries in the West. I think we focus on the wise men due to the proximity of the feasts, though the feast of the Baptism of Christ follows the next Sunday and the Wedding of Cana on the following (through the Gospel reading).
Read more at Crisis Magazine.