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The tradition of honoring the 12 days following Christmas has religious undertones that can be traced to 16th-century England.

The celebration is intended to be a lighthearted time of joy and family gatherings, according to the British cultural Web site, www.learnenglish.de/culture/christmas.

People in ancient times were believed to have burned a log in a fireplace nonstop for the 12-day period as a way to bring good luck to the new year. The custom of the log, called the yule log, dates to the Druids, the Web site said.

In medieval times, a dried bean was hidden in a cake that was eaten on the 12th night during the biggest party of the year. Whoever found the bean then became “king of the bean” and ruled the party that night, the Web site said.

There is another food myth associated with the celebration — for every mince pie one ate during the 12 days, they would have a month of good luck the following year, the Web site added.

Today, the holiday song “Twelve Days of Christmas” is still sung, but long ago it was sung for a very different reason. Roman Catholics, who were banned from practicing their religion in yesteryear England, used code words in the song to secretly pass on messages of faith to their children.

According to the Web site, http://thehistoryofchristmas.com, some passages translate to other meanings. “My true love” refers to God; “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus; and “Ten lords a-leaping” is the Ten Commandments, the Web site said.

That’s something to remember when out caroling this holiday season.

Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at: uknews@estripes.osd.mil

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