I don’t remember when I first heard it, but I know I was a young child. It has been sung all over the world and was even sung by the military prisoners of war in the movie “The Great Escape.” I always thought it was just a song that was a lot of fun to sing. Maybe you did too?
The song is The Twelve Days Of Christmas. As you just heard, the lyrics describe presents that the person’s true love sent to them twelve days in a row. I remember seeing news stories on TV each year adding up how much each item would cost in the current day’s economy and the total cost to the person sending them. At first glance it seems that is that, but not so.
Here is what Wikipedia says about the song: “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (roud 68) is an English Christmas Carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days that comprise the Christmas season starting with Christmas Day). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin.” “The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse ‘five gold rings.'”
There has been some disagreement about how the song’s lyrics could have been used. Snopes.com,the fact seeking website, debunks the idea that the song was used for religious purposes to hide church teachings from those who were persecuting Catholics. I thought it would be a good idea to check this out through the Catholic Church. I must tell you that I am a Roman Catholic, but I don’t think that fact taints any of the results I have found.
The Catholic News Agency website published an article using Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, Nebraska as their source. Here is that explanation. “ 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 known only to members of the church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.”
To start the explanation “The “True Love” one hears in the song is not as smitten boy or girlfriend but Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. The partridge in the pear tree also represents Him because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators.”
The article goes on to detail the other lines of the song from Ann Ball’s Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals as follows.”The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments. The three French hens stood for faith, hope and love. The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The five golden rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior. 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—–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience (Forbearance), Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, and Continency [Chastity]. The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping were the eleven faithful Apostles. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.”
There you have it, two explanations about the origin and meaning of the Twelve Days Of Christmas and it is possible that there may be others. I don’t think it matters which one you believe or if the song really originated in France. The song is still a lot of fun to sing and even to contemplate.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].