Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

December 22, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:48 am



In December we begin to hear many radio stations play the famous, old Christmas carols that we all love to hear.  Most of these carols or hymns are very old and tell the true story of the Christmas season and the real reason for the season.  One of these songs is “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which predates most of the other carols as it was first published in 1780.  As examples, “Silent Night” was written around 1818, while “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was penned in 1868.


Most people view “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a delightful nonsense rhyme set to music.  It has a repetitious melody with pretty phrases and a list of strange gifts.  But, the song had a quite serious purpose when it was written.


“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written in England as one of the “catechism songs” to help young Christian Catholics learn the tenets of their faith.  Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law, private or public.  It was a crime to be a Catholic.  In fact, you could get imprisoned, hanged, or your head chopped off if you practiced your Catholic faith.


The song’s gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith.  The “true love” mentioned in the song doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor.  It refers, instead, to God Himself.  The “me” who received the presents refers to every baptized believer.  The “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, in memory of the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem!  Jerusalem!  How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so…..”


The other symbols, or gifts in the song, mean the following:


2 Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testament.

3 French Hens – Faith, Hope, and Charity, (the Theological Virtues).

4 Calling Birds – The four Gospels.

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.

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 of the Apostle’s Creed.


The twelve days of Christmas actually refer not to the days preceding December 25th, but to the twelve days after Christmas, i.e. December 26th to January 6th, which is the day before the Epiphany.


Interestingly, some one has calculated the cost or value of all the gifts in the song in the year 2011, which would total $24,263.18.  Of course, that would be earthly value and not the Heavenly value.


So, the next time you sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, you might have a greater appreciation of the lyrics and their true, hidden, meaning.

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