Friday, 21 December 2007

Twelve Days of Christmas



The Carol "Twelve Days of Christmas" has a fascinating history. Here's one version of the story:

"From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol 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

...Jesus Christ.

Two turtle doves

...the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens, hope and love.

Four calling birds

...the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

Five golden rings

...the first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch:

1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy.

Six geese a-laying

...the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming

...the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit -- Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

Eight maids a-milking

...the eight beatitudes: Bleesed are...

1) the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.

Nine ladies dancing

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

Ten lords a-leaping

...the ten commandments:

1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet.

Eleven pipers piping

...the eleven faithful disciples: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James.

Twelve drummers drumming

...the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' 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. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.


  1. Three French hens for Faith, Hope, and Love?
    You got it wrong mate! This is the Real English Hen talking, and as far as I'm concerned, the French Hens are Foul, Harsh, and Lust!

    This could start a war :)

    I better shut up now! :)

  2. Mother Hen! I'm still giggling..


    hey, I have a website you'd love. I must get the link for you.

    I love the Cluck of the Bells and i'm betting they're all English Hens. ;-)

  3. This is priceless. One of my kids just asked me the other day if there really were 12 days of Christmas and if they were before or after Christmas. I had to answer that I had no idea. We were driving at the time and I'd subsequently forgot all about the question until I read this. Now at least I have one possible answer. Off to Google for others. Thanks!

  4. Well ! I live and learn!
    Thanks, Michelle, I'd never heard about that - in all my years! I'd just accepted the song at face value.

    Coincidentally, I've done a parody(astrological) of the song for my blog, to post sometime in the next few days. :-D

  5. I hadn't heard either - pretty cool!

  6. PV

    originally the 12 days were from Christmas day till the day the Wise Men were supposed to arrive, in early January. All 12 days were a holiday and time for celebration, unlike nowadays where most people are lucky if they get a week off work!

    oooh, I look forward to that one. :-)

    Nice seeing you here. How are you? :-)

    and MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone! :-)

  7. This is a VERY interesting one! I've heard something about this but I didn't know the details he he he THANKS for elaborating it for us! ;-D

  8. Hi Amel

    It was interesting to me too. I had no idea there was such a compliated story behind this seemingly simple song.



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