Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas Revisited

The "Twelve Days of Christmas" is a song that many of us grew up singing - yet what do we really know about its origins? 

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

It has come to my attention that the historical version of the song and its origins I posted here may not be completely truthful.  Ah - the dangers of using Wikipedia as a source.  I actually received an email from a family friend that contained this rendition of the carol's background.  Nonetheless - I'm putting it out there as a possible explanation as to the song's history and meaning...

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
-Three French hens stood for Faith, Hope and Love.
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six Days of Creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--
  Prophesy,Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--
  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and 
  Self  Control.
-The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Disciples.
                             -The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the 
                               Apostles' Creed.

The popular Christmas carol goes like this:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
                      And so on... until the twelfth day -
The earliest well-known version of the music of the song was recorded by English scholar James O. Halliwell in 1842, and he published a version in 4th edition The Nursery Rhymes of England (1846), [Wikipedia]
Here's a great light show and the Twelve Days of Christmas featuring the New York Philharmonic Orchestra -          

Deborah is the author of a Christian non-fiction book titled “Mission Possible”.  It is written for women who love the Lord Jesus, but their spouse doesn’t share their passion.  It will encourage and challenge the reader to embrace God’s promises for their spouse and future together.



  1. Thanks, Deborah! I've always loved this tale. May you have a very blessed Christmas season!

  2. Glad you stopped by Lynn - thanks for the Christmas wishes - I'm jumping over to your new post now...

  3. Interesting and plausible. The history goes so far back we may never really know, but as Hub said in Second Hand Lions, "Some things are worth believing even if they aren't entirely true" and I believe this is one instance. Great post, Deborah.

  4. Thanks for your kind words Cecilia. I've always enjoyed singing the song and found this rendition of its historical background very uplifting. You're right - it's worth the read and scrutiny. Have a blessed Christmas!



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