The Twelve Days of Christmas

The English Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas was first published in England in 1780 as part of a children’s book, Mirth without Mischief.  The song’s earlier history is shrouded in mystery but it may be French. The meter is irregular, especially notable in the drawn out “Five golden rings”. Most of the earliest citations of the song do not include music, but English composer Frederic Austin wrote an arrangement in 1909 that is the one most often used today.

 

The song appears to be a silly tune about increasingly grandiose gifts given the singer by his or her True Love, and that may indeed be all that the song is. In his article How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas, Canadian hymnologist Hugh D. McKellar suggested that the song uses ordinary imagery to convey religious truths. Some priests and chaplains have supported these claims, stating that the song was used as a catechism for children during periods of persecution.

 

We may never know the real origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but we can use the song today to teach and remember some basic truths about our Christian faith. For that purpose,  some of the possible meanings of each day are listed below:

 

December 26, Boxing Day – A Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

Symbolic of Jesus Christ on the Cross

 

Boxing Day/St. Stephens Day

 

According to one legend, in the Middle Ages, peasants were expected to bring Christmas gifts to their noble masters to thank them for land and protection.   Though in poverty, they had little choice.  During his reign, Good King Wenceslas of Bohemia (907-929 AD) changed the tradition by presenting gifts to his peasants.  The song Good King Wenceslas came from this tradition. Eventually Boxing Day became a holiday celebrated in the Britain, Canada and Australia to thank one’s subordinates for their contributions with gifts. 

 

December 27 – Two Turtledoves – Old and New Testaments

 

December 28 – Three French Hens – Faith, Hope and Love

 

December 29 – Four Calling Birds – Four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

 

December 30 – Five Golden Rings

 

Five Books of the Law (the Pentateuch) – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

 

December 31 – Six Geese a Laying

 

Six days of Creation (Genesis 1-2)

1.    Day 1 – Light and darkness

2.    Day 2 – Water and the Heavens

3.    Day 3 – Dry land, grass and trees (vegetation)

4.    Day 4 – Sun, moon and stars

5.    Day 5 – Sea creatures

6.    Day 6 – Air and land animals and man.

7.    Day 7 – Rest

 

January 1 – Seven Swans a Swimming

 

Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:3-8)

1.    Prophecy

2.    Ministry

3.    Teaching

4.    Exhortation

5.    Giving

6.    Ruling (administration)

7.    Mercy

 

January 2 – Eight Maids a Milking

 

Eight beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11)

1.    The poor in spirit

2.    Those who mourn

3.    The meek

4.    Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness

5.    The merciful

6.    The pure in heart

7.    The peacemakers

8.    The persecuted

 

January 3 – Nine Ladies Dancing

 

Nine fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22)

 

January 4 – Ten Lords a Leaping

 

Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17)

1.    Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

2.    Thou shalt not make any graven image.

3.    Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.

4.    Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.

5.    Honor thy father and mother.

6.    Thou shalt not kill.

7.    Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8.    Thou shalt not steal.

9.    Thou shalt not bear false witness.

10.Thou shalt not covet.

 

January 5 – Eleven Pipers Piping

 

Eleven Faithful Disciples

1.    Simon Peter

2.    Andrew, Peter’s brother

3.    James, son of Zebedee

4.    John, James’ brother

5.    Philip

6.    Bartholemew

7.    Matthew

8.    Thomas

9.    James, son of Alpheus

10.Simon the Zealot

11.Judas, brother of James

 

January 6, Epiphany – Twelve Drummers Drumming

 

The 12 points of the Apostle’s Creed

 

1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.

6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,

9. The Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,

10. The forgiveness of sins,

11. The resurrection of the body,

12. And life everlasting.

Amen.

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