What's the historical significance of the number 12?

It's the number of months in a year, hours on a clock face and the number of members on a typical court jury. So how did the number 12 become so ubiquitous?

Experts say it's a legacy from the Western world's Judeo-Christian history

The number 12 remains very common in daily life, from the number of hours in a day to the number of months in a year. (iStockphoto)

The number 12 is ubiquitous — it's the number of months in a year, hours on a clock face and the number of members on a typical court jury.

And today, Dec. 12, 2012, corresponds to the date 12-12-12. At 12:12 p.m., a young Alabama boy named Kiam Moriya turned 12, a unique birthday that has some people speculating that he's either the so-called "chosen one" or the sign of the apocalypse.

So, what is the source of our society's obsession with the number 12?

The prominence of the number, particularly in the Western world, stems from the historical influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition, says University of Toronto religion professor David Reed.

The number 12 is mentioned often in the New Testament of the Bible, such as Jesus' selection of 12 apostles, he said.

That choice was deliberate, with each apostle representing one of the 12 tribes of Israel, said Reed, a professor emeritus of pastoral theology and research.

"[The number's significance] bleeds into the Western civilization, especially through Europe as Christianity spread from the Mediterranean into Europe and into the West," he said. "Our whole culture is influenced by that religious frame of reference."

In the book of Revelations, there are many references to the number 12, including 12 gates and 12 angels. It's a significant number in Ancient Greece as well — the Greeks worshipped 12 major gods of Olympus.

Even beyond that sphere, the number 12 is ever-present. From a dozen eggs to the 12 ribs on the average human to the 12 inches that comprise a foot (a height measurement we still use in Canada, despite using the metric system in most other instances).

In other countries, however, such as China, numbers such as 8 have more significance. The digit is so auspicious that when Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics, it was held on August 8, 2008 — or 8-8-8 — and started at 8:08 p.m. local time. Couples clamoured to get married on that date, with the hopes of gaining some of its luck.

Wedding fever

Lovebirds around the world, including a Toronto baseball legend, have got the same idea for 12-12-12.

Former Toronto Blue Jay Roberto Alomar is getting married at the Art Gallery of Ontario in downtown Toronto tonight.

"It's official! My wedding on 12-12-12 booked the "AGO" in Toronto," he tweeted in June. "So happy to share that once in a life time date with my fiancé."

'So happy to share that one in a life time date with my fiancé.'—Former Toronto Blue Jay Roberto Alomar

In Las Vegas, the land of the quickie wedding, chapels are looking to cash in on the unique date by selling 12/12/12 packages at three times the normal price.

In the absence of any obvious symbolism — like 7-7-07, which gamblers will recognize as the numbers for a lucky slot machine winner — chapels are turning to Chinese numerology. 

"One is considered a yang number, while two is considered a yin number. Combining the two can offer new couples balance," the marketing firm Back Bar USA said in a press release announcing its $1,212,120 wedding package, which includes the use of a private jet, watches and earrings for the wedding party, and dinner at a Michelin-rated restaurant.

Many are betting this unique date will lure lovebirds to Las Vegas, and boost their lagging revenues.

"From a marketing perspective, it's a very big deal. Numbers are associated with Vegas," said Ann Parsons, marketing director for Vegas Weddings, which runs four chapels in town. "Unfortunately, it's the last date like that we'll have."

With files from the Associated Press