Children's Book Recommendations, Liturgical Living

Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas

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 beginning of 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.

I like to extend our family’s Christmas celebration by reminding them that the real Christmas season has only just begun; the season of Advent is officially over but we can continue celebrating Christmas and all the joy and happiness it brings for a couple more weeks (if not longer!). To do this, I read them one of my favorite children’s books on the subject, The 12 Days of Christmas: The Story Behind a Favorite Christmas Song. The song recounts the unique gifts given each day from her true love. I think this book does a wonderful job explaining the symbolic meaning behind each gift in a way that’s understandable for all ages (more on that below). Each day, we read about the gift and talk about how we can benefit from receiving it as well. I also have the Hallmark mini ornament collection and metal tree especially designed for this occasion. I let one of my children add the coordinating ornament on the tree each day after we read about the gift. (Kurt Adler has a lot of 12 Days ornament sets available on Amazon that would make for a fun family tradition… here are some options: red balls, resin discs, colored balls. There are also some intricate wooden ornaments. There are also some great ornament tree options like this gold one, this silver one, or this more realistic white one.)

Back to that famous song.. It 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 Testaments in 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 creation accounted 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 highly recommend TheTwelve Days of Christmas: The Story Behind a Favorite Christmas Song. The beautiful pictures in the photo at the top of this post were taken from this book.

Lindsay Letters also has a stunning collection of watercolor printables for this 12-day celebration available to purchase on her site. The purchase comes with an 8×10, 2 5x7s, and some gift tags for each “day” – super fun! I printed out all the 8x10s and put the current day in a frame next to our ornament tree. She also has art prints and canvas prints available for purchase of the entire collection.


There’s also some information about the history of this song in Why was the Partridge in the PearTree?: A History of Christmas Carols. This book goes into more detail about other popular Christmas carols through the ages as well.

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.
(This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. If you purchase the recommended books or decor from these links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, so thank you. 😊)
“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17

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