The Twelve Days of Christmas

Traditional English, 18th Century
Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

C’mon. you know this one had to be in here somewhere.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, of course, actually begin on Christmas Day and end on Epiphany, January 6. Some scholars believe that the song in its most well known form was an “underground catechism;” a way to help English Catholics to remember important tenets of their faith during the years from 1558 to 1829 when Catholicism was outlawed.

This explanation of the verses is as follows:

  1. The Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  2. Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments (or the sacrifice offered by Joseph and Mary at the presentation of Christ in the Temple).
  3. French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues (see: I Corinthians 13) (or the gifts of the Magi).
  4. Calling Birds = The Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
  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 Laying = The six days of creation.
  7. Swans Swimming = The seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the Seven Sacraments.
  8. Maids Milking = The eight beatitudes (see: Matthew 5: 3-11)
  9. Ladies Dancing = The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (see: Galatians 5:22-23: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) (or the Nine Choirs of Angels).
  10. Lords Leaping = The Ten Commandments.
  11. Pipers Piping = The eleven faithful apostles.
  12. Drummers Drumming = The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

By this accounting of the song, “my true love” would be God the Father.

Whatever your faith tradition, it’s an interesting, beautiful way to hear the song anew. It seems today all we know about the Twelve Days of Christmas is how much they cost adjusted for inflation ($21,465.56 for 2009) and that it’s fun to sing the “five gold rings” part:

Anyway, this being the ninth day, enjoy your ladies dancing. Try to be loving, joyful, peaceful, etc. to each other.

I couldn’t figure out how to embed this properly, so you’ll have to go to the link, but it doesn’t get any better. The Man in Black from a 1977 Christmas Special.

2010 Update:

Looks like even the lame imbed I did last year doesn’t work anymore, so try this one for Johnny Cash:

And here’s some fun from John Denver and The Muppets:

Oh…and this year it will cost you $23,439.38 to give your true love the works, a 9.2% increase from last year. Damn economy!


3 thoughts on “The 12 Good Songs of Christmas: #5

  1. Its a silly song, and repetitive. Along the same lines as “99 bottles of beer on the wall”. Perhaps it has a historical liturgical meaning from days of yore. “Yore” : a term compatible with current relevancy of this song.
    However, I will grant you this – I will run from another room to join in with “Five Goooooolden Rings!” – but only with the purest sarcastic joy.

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