Advent Week 2: The 12 Days of Christmas

This is definitely not one of my top picks, but then, it is the oddities of a life of faith.  I quite dislike the song, actually, as I dislike all songs that build on previous verses and make you repeat the same lines over and over…and over.  I try to avoid “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” for roughly the same reason.  As to the “12 Days of Christmas,” I tend to prefer the Muppets version (because, well, Muppets), the Straight No Chaster version, or the cynical parody my father always sang to me when I was a kid (which may explain a lot) about what happens when the loving couple has a falling-out.  It’s hilarious, really, and I sing that one with gusto.  I’m also aware of the cultural love of the song only for certain pieces.  Be as obnoxious as possible if you’re going to bother.

So it’s not my favorite song, but it fits this week in terms of its absurd largesse.  On Monday I went out for a run and noticed that my neighbor had left his keys in his door.  I figured he had just gotten home, he’d had his hands full, whatever.  Off on my run I went.

When I got back half an hour later, the keys were still in the door.  This is no good, so I knocked on his door to let him know.  He, of course, had forgotten all about them, and was profusely grateful that I had pointed it out.  He and I have had a couple of neighborly fluff conversations before, so we’ve met (though I don’t know his name).  He’s a friendly gent and apparently his wife is visiting family back home in the Middle East.  (She, by the way, has the most beautiful head scarves.  As a general note.)  He asked me, after thanking me, if he could make me dinner one night in gratitude.  I agreed, a bit floored that those were equivalent in his mind, and thought nothing more of it.

A few minutes later he knocked on my door with a bowl of rice and roasted chicken, which I can only assume was part of the lunch he’d had for himself as there was no way he’d had time to make it.  “Take it,” he said, “thank you.”

I had no idea how to refuse it, so I took it and figured, well, that was that.  Nope.  When I got home from class Tuesday he knocked on my door with a whole meal—salad, chicken dish of deliciousness, an orange, olives, a pomegranate, and bread; he had made a meal of his culture for me, for sure, and it was awesome.

I was flabbergasted by the magnitude of this response, this homemade gesture of thankfulness for a mere set of keys.  I took a picture of it—I’m not usually in the habit of photographing food, but this needed to be proven to have truly happened.

So we were definitely not even, but that was that, right?  Wrong.

The next night, when I got home from rehearsal, he knocks on my door with chicken soup.  Now, God help me, I’m suspicious; he misses cooking for his wife, I’m thinking, I’m filling that hole for him.

Why is it so difficult to simply accept another person’s generosity?  Why does it have to have any ulterior motive?  He is bringing me gifts, and the only thing I can think is, “Dude, they were just keys.”

I’ve since mulled this over with a couple of people who have pointed out various parts of the story I haven’t considered that may make it either more than just keys or less than an overwhelming amount of food.  I don’t know; I haven’t asked.  I might, when I take his dishes back (yes, he gave me all of this in his own dishes; a great deal of meditation was done Wednesday night while washing them for return).  But in the meantime, I am still so totally unsure of what to do with this bounty.

Yesterday was my last day of class in Difficulty.  It was a bittersweet farewell to the city, and the class and its other stalwart historians.  We’d agreed to begin by meeting for lunch at a local restaurant—a classy joint, not terribly cheap—and my professor very quietly and firmly decided he was picking up the bill for all of us.  And one of my classmates gave us coffee, preserves, and chocolate from her hometown.

Again, this crazy unexpected munificence that is characterizing my week.

And there are days, weeks, like that; if I were to sit down and consider how I get through much of living as a graduate student and a human in general, I would be pushed to speechlessness by the willing openhandedness of others.  Not always—there are definitely the misers out there, and those who give expecting you to be in their debt.  But there are those who uncomplainingly drive you to or pick you up from the train station week after week, those who loan you money when you have nothing left, those who invite you to dinner, those who simply stand quietly with you when you need to rant—or when you need to say nothing at all.

The 12 Days of Christmas ends with the singing lover having a ridiculous amount of rather useless crap.  But it was given in love, in the outrageous, discomforting generosity of one who wanted to give gifts to a beloved one.

Ah.  Yes.  You can see where this is going, perhaps?

I don’t mean to say that Jesus comes as Santa Claus with a bag full of lords a-leaping.  I do mean to say that He stands with arms full of blessings of all varieties that often have very little to do with gold and sometimes very much to do with bowls of rice.  And He wants to give this to us, to me, His true love, in an absurd and incomprehensible liberality that provides without question of merit and only wishes us to see that that kind of love will go through the whole song for us—even if it’s annoying as all get out.


“Give to everyone who asks you. And if anyone takes what belongs to you, don’t ask to get it back. Do to others as you want them to do to you.”  (Luke 6:30-31, NIRV)

5 thoughts on “Advent Week 2: The 12 Days of Christmas

  1. […]  (That’s right, technically we’re still in Christmas—that’s where the 12 Days of Christmas concept comes in, because Epiphany falls 12 days after the holiday proper.  Take that argument to […]


  2. […] that there doesn’t really seem to be any consensus on the lyrics.  It’s kind of like the 12 Days of Christmas where everyone is super focused on the “five gold rings” part but is pretty fuzzy on […]


  3. […] mentioned this neighbor before, but it’s not like we really knew each other well.  In fact, I never did learn his name. […]


  4. I’ve never liked that song either, even as a kid. Nevertheless, you have actually succeeded in making something spiritual out of it. I will think of your interpretation the next time I have to sit through it.

    For what it’s worth, I’d be much more suspicious of your neighbor’s motives than you were. Hopefully his wife will return soon. Until then, bon appetit.


  5. Sheila Bigelow says:

    Beautifully stated.  



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