Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Dasher, The first of Santa’s reindeer in the series of: The Twelve Days of Christmas
I donated Dasher to Ocean Tides, a boarding school for "at risk" boys in Rhode Island for their annual fundraiser. I'll be carving the others of Santa's team of reindeer, to donate to Ocean Tides, over the next several years (how many reindeer does Santa have?).

As a woodcarver of wildlife-themed carousel figures, the graceful form of deer has long enraptured me. During my first New England Christmas, while reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” caprice urged me to learn more about reindeer, and whimsy compelled me to begin carving one. The long mane and oversized antlers of the male reindeer are just too cool, and are a lot of fun to “free-form” carve. With Epiphany approaching, and while whistling “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” I had an epiphany - the “coffin-box,” (hollow) structure of a carousel figure would lend itself very well to the carving of a pattern through the wooden shell and into the void within … and verses from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” would be a good theme for this endeavor. So while shaping one of Santa’s “eight tiny reindeer,” I began brainstorming about how to meld the themes of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” together in my woodcarving. For starters, rather than making one big sleigh to go with the reindeer, perhaps I could fashion rockers as a base (it has a ‘stop’ to keep it from rocking) for the reindeer that would evoke thoughts of Santa’s sleigh. Eight reindeer, twelve days of Christmas, hmmm … well the first through eighth days would have to be combined in pairs, while the ninth through twelfth days could stand alone. OK, here is the plan for Santa’s eight reindeer and the twelve days of Christmas’s (to be donated to Ocean Tides Boy’s School for their fund-raisers):

“Dasher” is “Two Turtle Doves & a Partridge in a Pear Tree.”
“Dancer” will be “Four Calling Birds & Three French Hens.”
“Prancer” will be “Six Geese A-laying & Five Golden Rings.”
“Vixen” will be “Eight Maids A-milking & Seven Swans A-swimming”
“Comet” will be Nine Ladies Dancing.”
“Cupid” will be “Ten Lords A-leaping.”
“Donner” will be “Eleven Pipers Piping.”
“Blitzten” will be “Twelve Drummers Drumming.”
While working on “Dasher,” I pondered the symbolism of Christmas. The “flaws” in the palms of the antlers, which at first had so upset me, began to look like stigmata. Holly, so commonly associated with Christmas, would make a good “crown of thorns” for Dasher. The black “tear tracts,” so common in the animal kingdom (check out your dog or cat – I’ll bet you they have them) could represent sorrow for the suffering of Christ on the cross. The “Twelve Days of Christmas” is a song about the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany and is all about symbolism. Some people contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the "days" represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn. I thought that, perhaps more importantly, as I hope to convey through my woodcarving, Christians can celebrate their rich heritage through more than one avenue at Christmas. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” speaks to the innocent child within us all. “The Twelve Days of Christmas is not merely a secular "nonsense song," but also a way to remind us of the grace of God working in transforming ways in our lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas?


The Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)
Two Turtle Doves are the Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.
Three French Hens are the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Four Calling Birds are the Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ
Five Gold Rings are the first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.
Six Geese A-laying are the six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).
Seven Swans A-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
Eight Maids A-milking are the eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)
Nine Ladies Dancing are the nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Ten Lords A-leaping are the ten commandments: You shall have no other gods before me; Do not make an idol; Do not take God's name in vain; Remember the Sabbath Day; Honor your father and mother; Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)
Eleven Pipers Piping are the eleven Faithful Apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.
Twelve Drummers Drumming are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy Catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.

Twas the Night before Christmas Poem

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

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