The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Real Meaning Behind the Song

So the Lord himself will give you this sign: A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [God Is With Us].

Luke 2:9-15

The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Real Meaning Behind the Song

Like some other well-known Christmas songs, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an ancient carol, dating as far back as the 1500s. According to church tradition, the Christmas celebration lasted twelve days, beginning on Christmas Day (December 25) and extending to Epiphany, the traditional date for the Magi’s visit (2011: on January 6, celebrated January 2).

In the 15th and 16th centuries, counting songs were very much in vogue, so a song about the Twelve Days of Christmas quickly became popular. But The Twelve Day of Christmas is more than just a cute counting song. It has rich symbolism regarding Christian teachings.

There was also a theory that; “The carol was a secret catechism for Catholics in England when Catholicism was persecuted during the war of religions from Henry the VIII to 1829,” Dr. Neil told 702 ABC Sydney.

“This song gave them a chance to teach their kids’ knowledge of the saints and doctrine in a secret code when the Protestants were cracking down on the Catholics.”

The true 12 days of Christmas vary across some 50 religious denominations, but the Catholic version has the Christmas season starting on December 25 and concluding with the Epiphany.

Each day represents the celebration of a martyr, a saint, or a feast connected with Jesus’ birth. Boxing Day, for example, considered day two of Christmas, is the Feast of Saint Stephen, a deacon who gave present boxes to the poor.

“The feast wraps up on January 6, which is the revelation of Christ as the Saviour and the son of God to the world,” Dr. Neil explained.

“On that day, the Orthodox celebrate the baptism of Christ and the Catholics celebrate the arrival of the Magi — the three wise men with their presents [and] it’s in their memory that we give presents.”

Let us take a look at the song.

My “True Love” in the song refers to God. Thus, each of the following gifts is to be understood as gifts from God.

Jesus1st Day: The Partridge in a Pear Tree.

The “True Love” one hears in the song is not a smitten boy or a girlfriend, but Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. Likewise, the pear tree’s partridge represents Christ because that bird is willing to sacrifice itself if necessary to protect its young by feigning to draw away predators.

2nd Day:  The Two Turtle Doves.

There are two theories in which the two Turtle Doves may represent.

The First is, The Two Natures of Christ, which are the Human and Divine. The Second is The Two Testaments of the Bible: The Old and The New.

3rd Day:  The Three French Hens

The Three French Hens symbolize the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love.

4th Day:   The Four Calling Birds

The Four Calling Birds represent the four evangelists: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John.

 

The four evangelists

5th Day:  Five Golden Rings

The Five Golden Rings are the First Five Books of the old testament, the “Pentateuch,” which gives the history of man’s fall from grace. These are the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

 

6th Day: Six Geese A – Laying

The Six Geese A-Laying represent the Six Days of Creation:

The Six Days of Creation

    • 1st: Heaven and Earth and Separation of Light (Day) and Darkness (Night)
    • 2nd: Separation of the Firmament and the Waters
    • 3rd: Separation of Dry Land and Seas; Vegetations
    • 4th: Sun, Moon, and Stars
    • 5th: Creeping creatures, Births and Fishes
    • 6th: Beast, cattle, and finally, “God created man to His own image” (Gn 1:27).
7th Day: Seven Swan A – Swimming

The Seven Swan A-Swimming represents the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom (Sapientia), Understanding (Intellectus), Counsel (Consillum), Fortitude (Fortificada), Knowledge (Scientia), Piety (Pietas), Fear of the Lord (Timor Domini)

(According to some sources, the seven swans refer to the seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Ordination.)

8th Day: Eight Maids A – Milking

The Eight Maids A- Milking represents the Eight Beatitudes taught by Jesus. These are Blesses are the:

        • poor in spirit
        • those who mourn
        • the meek
        • those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness
        • the merciful
        • the pure in heart
        • the peacemakers
        • the persecuted
9th Day: Nine Ladies Dancing

The Nine Ladies Dancing represents the Nine orders (or Choirs) of Angels. These are:

        • Angels
        • Principalities
        • Archangels
        • Powers
        • Virtues
        • Dominions
        • Thrones
        • Cherubims
        • Seraphims

Some sources refer the Nine Ladies Dancing to the Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

10th Day: Ten Lords A – Leaping

The Ten Lords A-Leaping symbolize the Law of God; the Ten Commandments.

          1. “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.”
          2. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
          3. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”
          4. “Honor thy father and mother.”
          5. The Ten Commandments

            “Thou shalt not kill.”

          6. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
          7. “Thou shalt not steal.”
          8. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
          9. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
          10. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”
11th Day: Eleven Pipers Piping

The Eleven Pipers Piping stood for the Eleven Faithful Apostles who stuck with Jesus when seemingly all others abandoned Him. They were referred to as “pipers,” for they indeed were sent out of all corners to spread the Gospel as Our Lord had commanded.

12th Day: Twelve Drummers Drumming

The Twelve Drummers Drumming refers to the Twelve basic Beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed:

          1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
          2. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
          3. Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
          4. Suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
          5. He descended to hell; on the third day, He rose again from the dead.
          6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty;
          7. From thence, He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
          8. I believe in the Holy Spirit.
          9. the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,
          10. the forgiveness of sins,
          11. the resurrection of the body,
          12. and life everlasting.

 

For your full copy of the song:

Twelve Days of Christmas

John Denver, The Muppets

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Three French hens, two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the ninth day of Christmas
Nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings
Four calling birds, three French hens
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Milt Okun / Decormier / C.c. Carter
Twelve Days of Christmas lyrics © Bmg Ruby Songs, Music By Nickelodeon Inc., Reservoir Media Management (ireland) Limited, Wonderland Music Co. Inc., Tcf Music Publishing Inc, Bmg Rights Management (ireland) Ltd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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