Christmas Song: ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’

The Christmas carol songs titled ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ always amuse me.

What as Christmas as to do with the leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans and the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree.

I have just found out what it means.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that time wrote this carol song as a catechism song for young catholic.

The song has two levels of meaning: ‘The surface and hidden meaning’ known to only members of Catholic Church.

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

‘My True Love’ means God. Gifts is sent to us daily from God.

  • The partridge in a peal tree was Jesus Christ.
  • Two turtle doves means the Old and New Testament.
  • The French hens stood for ‘Faith, Hope and Love’.
  • Four calling birds were the four gospels of ‘Matthew, Mark and John’.
  • Five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, meaning the first five ‘Books of the Old Testament’.
  • The Six geese a-Laying stood for the ‘Six Days of Creation’.
  • Seven Swamps a-Swimming represented the seven fold gifts of the Holy Spirit – ‘Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy’.
  • Eight maid 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 then ‘Ten Commandment’.
  • Eleven pipers piping stands for the ‘Eleven faithful Disciples’.
  • The Twelve Drummer Drumming symbolized the ‘Twelve Points of Belief in the Apostles creed’.

Now you know how the strange song became a Christmas Carol Song.

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