Recently my husband and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. Well, okay that’s not exactly true. Twelve years have come and gone since we were married, but between kids’ schedules, work schedules, and just plain fatigue, we’ve yet to really celebrate. I guess that’s how it goes, though. As joyful as those years have been, it gets harder to party and 12 doesn’t really feel like a special number.
Perhaps that’s why the earliest anniversary celebrations were reserved for years 25 and 50. The tradition, which most likely comes from the Middle Ages in the region that would eventually become Germany, was for a husband (or sometimes friends of the couple) to present the wife with a silver wreath in celebration of the 25th anniversary and a gold wreath for the 50th. It actually wasn’t until the mid to late 1930’s that more celebrations became common and even then it was usually limited to the 1st, 10th, 20th, and 70th.
Traditionally these anniversaries are celebrated with gifts of increasing value to symbolize the increasing value of a commitment maintained over time. The paper (or freezer burned wedding cake) anniversary is up first. For the 10th, tin is the gift of choice (because nothing says love like a tin roof rusted). By the time you’ve been married 20 years it’s time to replace the wedding china (if any has survived the nesting stage) and if you are fortunate enough to see your 70th, the metal of choice is platinum (you spin me right ‘round baby right ‘round like a platinum record baby right round ‘round ‘round).
And even though as time moves on and the divorce rate creeps up (in the US the average marriage that ends in divorce lasts between 7 and 8 years; the average overall is just 24 years) and couples become more likely to treat each anniversary as an achievement, I’m still not sure when we will get around to calling a babysitter and grabbing that romantic dinner for two. Maybe I’ll just have to face the fact that some anniversaries seem more celebration worthy than others.
But before I do, I would like to make a case for year number 12.
First of all, great things come in twelves. Things like eggs, months, disciples, hours on the clock, signs of the zodiac, tribes of Israel, and drummers drumming. We regularly bake cookies, cupcakes, and muffins in multiples of 12. And twelve even has its own special title (a claim to fame shared by such rock star numbers as 3.14… and 6.02×1023).
The word dozen comes from the French douzaine (literally a group of twelve) which is a derivation of the Latin word for twelve (douze) with a collective suffix tacked on the end. Now it’s perfectly possible to add the same suffix to other numbers and get, say, quinzaine (a group of 15) or centaine (a group of 100), but at least in English we typically don’t.
Because 12 is particularly special.
Mathematically speaking, there’s a pretty good argument (if one feels compelled to argue about such things) that counting in a base 12 system (meaning the “tens” place in our numbering system would actually be a “twelves” place) might not be such a terrible idea. We already do it when we tell time, measure in inches, or order a gross of cocktail umbrellas. In the field of finance where calendar months often become an important part of calculations, base twelve (also called “duodecimal” or “dozenal” system by those who actually do feel compelled to argue about such things) could make sense. If we think in terms of factors (the kinds of things mathematicians really geek out about), 12 is a lot more versatile than 10. Ten just factors to 2×5, whereas 12 factors to 6 x 2, 4 x 3, and 2x2x3.
So, I guess it’s time to call the babysitter and make a reservation because 12 years gives us a lot to celebrate:
6 jobs x 2 kids = 4 cities x 3 states = 2 advanced degrees x 2 trips to the ER x 3 houses
= 12 years of wedded bliss
And I’m looking forward to the next dozen celebrations to come, and the next dozen after that. Maybe even a dozen times a dozen, but now I’m getting sappy and (I do apologize for this, but I can’t stop myself from typing it) that’s just gross.