31 December 2010

Seven swans-a-swimming on the Seventh Day of Christmas

On the Seventh Day of Christmas ... seven swans-a-swimming on the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross earlier this week on Saint Stephen’s Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Seventh Day of Christmas, 31 December, and I realise that the end of the year falls in the middle of Christmastide, even though it has no particular connection with the Feast. How wonderful that in the Lectionary readings for the Eucharist today, the opening verses of Saint John’s Gospel remind us of true beginnings and true endings.

In mediaeval and early modern Europe, the New Year began on 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation – hearing the beginning of the salvation story at the beginning of the year also seems very appropriate.

On 31 December, the calendar of the Episcopal Church (TEC) recalls Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1891), Bishop in the Niger Territories and the first black African bishop in the Anglican Communion – another new beginning to celebrate.

In the Orthodox tradition, the Afterfeast of the Nativity – similar to the Western Octave – continues until 31 December, which is known as the ἀπόδοσις (Apodosis) or “leave-taking” of the Nativity.

The Swan ... once claimed to be the oldest pub in Lichfield, but has since been turned into a restaurant and apartments (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The seventh verse of the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is:

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
seven swans-a-swimming,
six geese-a-laying,
five golden rings,
four Colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the seven swans-a-swimming as figurative representations of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

The Church of Ireland Lectionary readings for the Eucharist today are: I John 2: 18-21; Psalm 96: 1-2, 11-13; John 1: 1-18.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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