“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings – four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”
Since numbers arose they have had meaning beyond what they measure. Folklore has picked up on this. It would have been impossible to come up with thirteen days of Christmas. Twelve represents perfection. Thirteen represents trouble. In the first book of the Bible itself the first war began in “the thirteenth year” (Genesis 14:4). And so it went through the centuries in secular as well as religious imagination. It’s no wonder that hotels don’t have a thirteenth floor or that Friday the 13th has a bad name!
The seven days of creation, including a day of rest and dedication, also represent perfection – eight, the beginning of a new era. Nothing describes better what life is meant to be like on this eighth day than Jesus’ Beatitudes, eight in number.
“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3-10, Common English Bible).
This eightfold teaching is as nourishing to the soul as milk, the first and most nutritious food, is to the body. So it was that in the first millennia of Christian custom and belief “8” became associated with happiness and blessing, however well practiced.
The true love of God nourishes body and soul. The blessings of God affect our entire well-being. We’re meant to live and give on “the eighth day,” mindful that, in the birth of Christ, a new era of happiness, a new kind of blessing, really has begun.