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)
6. Ruling (administration)
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
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.