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Some years December 25th feels more like a looming deadline we’re scrambling to meet rather than what it actually is: a life-changing holiday that is actually the beginningof the official Christmas season. You know the Christmas song, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?… that one you probably either love or hate because of its monotony? It refers to the eleven days following Christmas (with Christmas Day as the first) up through January 5th (the day before the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings). In olden days, those twelve days were filled with festivals leading up to the biggest party on the Twelfth Night.
The song was probably written in the mid-1700s and some historical accounts state that it was written in a way to teach children catechism secretly. There is no written proof of this being the reason, but I can’t help being in awe with the religious symbolism that so closely relates to the specific “gift” mentioned in the song. It’s also obvious that something was meant to be learned from the song, or why would it keep repeating so incessantly? Regardless of whether you believe in its creation as a sort of underground catechism or not, I believe it is still a fun way to remind our children (and/or ourselves) of the beauty of our faith – what better way to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our homes a little longer than to reflect on the gifts God has bestowed on us, His beloved?
Here are what the verses can remind us of…
On the first day of Christmas, my true love (God the Father) gave to me (us) – a partridge in a pear tree. It is known that a partridge will feign injury to lure predators away from its young and even fight to the death to protect them. Sound familiar? Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, given to us on the first Christmas would later die for us on a cross (made from a tree) in order to save us from sin.
Two turtledoves are regarded as birds of peace. They represent the Old and New Testamentsin the Bible. According to Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the Temple and offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice to God (as other families with modest incomes would, instead of offering the more customary lamb). Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb, does away with the old covenant, and brings in the new covenant.
Three French hens were actually more expensive than regular hens at the market and therefore were chosen to represent the three gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). The trio can also remind us of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Four calling birds are the four prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, and Daniel as well as the four writers of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The former “callers” paved the way, announcing the coming Messiah, and the latter spread his Good News.
Five Golden Rings symbolize the first five books of the Bible, also referred to as the Pentateuch, or Torah, and are the books of law for the Jewish people. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and establish a new covenant. The rings remind us that God’s love is eternal and pure (like gold).
Six geese a-laying remind us that there is new life in each egg and of the six days of creationaccounted in the book of Genesis. It was on that special sixth day, that God created man and woman in His own image.
Seven swans a-swimming allow us to see ourselves as ugly ducklings-turned-swans with the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord). These gifts will beautify our soul. They can also remind us of the seven Sacraments (Baptism, Holy Communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick).
Eight maids a-milking call to mind the eight Beatitudes Jesus recited on the Sermon on the Mount that start with “Blessed are the…” These special sayings help our minds and hearts to grow strong in spirit (just like milk for a newborn calf).
The nine ladies dancing are excited about the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) – attributes that will definitely make us more pleasant people to be around and a shining example to others.
The ten Lords a-leaping show us that there are laws to be obeyed and those are the Ten Commandments.
When a piper played in town, children usually followed along gleefully behind him. Therefore, those eleven pipers piping are a musical example of the eleven faithful apostles, calling others to join them in following Christ.
The twelve drummers drumming beat out a steady rhythm keeping the music unified. The twelve tenets of faith listed in the Apostles’ Creed are similar; no matter what Christian church you belong to all over the world, there is unity in the twelve basic beliefs.
And there you have it folks! Lots of info packed into that simple song of repetitive counting. If you used to find the song a little irritating before, hopefully you have a new appreciation for it now. If you’re looking for a cute children’s book explaining this song, I recommend TheTwelve Days of Christmas: The Story Behind a Favorite Christmas Song. There’s also some information about it in Why was the Partridge in the PearTree?: A History of Christmas Carols. That one goes into more detail about other popular Christmas carols through the ages as well.
I recently purchased this gold tree and colorful ornamentsoff Amazon (pictured above) and am excited about reviewing each gift from our True Love this Christmas season as we add the appropriate ornament each morning. (Zazzle has lots of cute themed pillows, including the one in my picture.)
Aside from this little catechism lesson, I want to encourage you to think of the Christmas season as just beginning or at least continuing (basically, just not ending). Keep the spirit of Christmas alive for a little longer. There’s still plenty of time to read Christmas books, watch Christmas movies, bake Christmas cookies, or whatever else you feel you didn’t get to fit in this year before Christmas.
Happy Second Day of Christmas, beloved!
“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17