12 Days of Christmas 2016
Ever wonder what on earth do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge that won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?
It is a Christmas song, which lists grand extravagant gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. It has been one of the most popular and most recorded songs in America and Europe in the past century.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly.
The lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas date back to that time although the music is said to be of French origin. Someone wrote this carol or Christmas song 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 religious reality that the children could remember. It originally a memory and forfeit game and was played with a circle of players. Each person said his line of the song in turn. When it became his turn again, he said the second line of the verse and so on.
The carol was first publicized in 1780 in London in a book called “Mirth without Mischief” but was used widely in Europe and the Scandinavian countries as early as the 16th century.
The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ on the cross. The tree is the symbol of the fall of the human race through the sin of Adam and Eve. The True Love is God.
Two turtledoves were the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love, the theological virtues.
The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The five golden rings recall the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch. They give the history of man’s fall from grace.
The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming represented the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Piety.
The eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes listed in the Sermon on the Mount… Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5: 22-23: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 – You shall have no other Gods before me; Do not make an idol; Do not take God’s name in vain; Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy; Honor your mother and father; Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not covet.
The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples in Luke 6: 14-16.
The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostle’s Creed.
So, maybe when you hear this wonderful old Christmas song this Christmas season, you will think of some of the history associated with it and remember how fortunate we are to have freedom of religion. We can actually teach our children about the Bible and catechisms without having to resort to cutesy little songs with hidden meanings.
So, there you have it… a bit about the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.
God bless you and Merry Christmas.