The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s a pretty familiar song that finds its way into the Christmas season each year.  We don’t find it in our hymnals nor is it a carol in the traditional sense, yet it has been voiced by numerous celebrities over the years.  For me, it is an annoying musical selection, but for some it’s a family song to be sung around the piano or tree.  It’s the “12 Days of Christmas.”  It has an unclear folklore that points to a time long ago when the song was composed as a series of symbols about the Christian faith. 

Here is the symbolism:

1 Partridge in a pear tree = Jesus, the Christ

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = The Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which   gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = The Six Days of Creation
7 Swans A-swimming = The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = The Eight Beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = The Ten Commandments
11 Pipers Piping = The eleven faithful Apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = The Twelve Points of Doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

 The claim is that it was written as a coded message dating back to the days of Henry VIII and his daughters, Mary (a Catholic) and Elizabeth (an Anglican.)  After Henry and Mary’s deaths, the “old worship” of Roman Catholicism was abolished throughout England, a ban which continued until 1829.  Anyone caught practicing the forbidden faith or possessing a “catholic” Bible was to be imprisoned or executed.  Hence, the composing of the song was a means of reminding adults of, and teaching children, the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith.  Curiously, none of the tenets which might distinguish Anglican from Roman practice are in the list.  And even more telling: the folklore can only be traced back to (ready for this?) 1990 or so; not the hundreds of years of the folklore tale. 

On the one hand, the song does serve well as a teaching tool for children about Christianity.  On the other hand, it’s an equally nice description of lovely gifts for the REAL 12 Days of Christmas; beginning on Christmas and ending on Epiphany (Boxing Day in most European countries.) I can hear the tune in my head, again!

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