Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Origins of "The 12 Days of Christmas"


Interesting tidbit that a friend emailed to me this week about the origins of this song that we all know.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly.

Someone during that era wrote "The 12 Days of Christmas" as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church.

Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.


  • The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

  • Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

  • Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

  • The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

  • The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

  • The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

  • Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

  • The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

  • Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit---Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

  • The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

  • The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

  • The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

8 comments:

Dawn said...

this is great- a friend mentioned that each "day" represented something... that was after someone else said what a dumb somg it was! it does get tiring, but i especially like the reliant k version!

kingdom writer said...

Absolutely brilliant, I have always wondered what it all meant!

74WIXYgrad said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. I will have to show this to my wife and daughter.

Busy Bee Suz said...

How cooooool is that?
It is not nearly as annoying to me now. :)

Life with Kaishon said...

This is really interesting!

On a completely different note, did you see the Top Chef where they had to cook the 12 days of Christmas? It was SO ridiculous it made me angry : ).

Hope your Christmas week is wonderful!

Laurie Keller said...

That's so fine to learn all of that just now after all my years on earth! Thanks and love. xoxo.

KBL 2 ORD 2 SAN 2 LUV said...

Sooo very cool, huh? I read about in like 5th or 6th grade, and I always remembered it. Not bad for a Muslim chica, huh?! :-)

Kisses to Ruby & Diva for me please!

Deron Arnold said...

Good to know.

Sounds like some good fundamentals for catechism.