The Origin of the 12 Days of Christmas Song
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a very popular English Christmas carol that resurfaces every year during the holidays. Each simple, yet challenging verse is designed to build and add to the previous verse. But do you know or have you ever wondered how it came to be?
"The 12 Days of Christmas" is a popular holiday song with an uncertain history. Its true origin and meaning is based in theory more than fact.
Some claim the song's roots stretch back to the Middle Ages during a time, according to history, that was filled with great revelry and joy. But it was also an era when the English monarchy and British Parliament dealt out severe punishment to those caught practicing Catholicism. Many music historians believe the song was created to help youngsters continue their faith beneath the protected veil of symbolism.
Even though all children in Catholic families had to learn the canon of their faith, no written word was allowed due to the severe consequences it could produce. Therefore, it was handed down verbally within the words of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
What do the symbols mean?
In the very first line of each verse, you'll see the phrase "my true love gave to me". God is the "true love" and "me" refers to the baptized person. The other symbols are as follows:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree - Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves - The Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens - The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
Four Calling Birds - Four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Five Golden Rings - First five books of the Old Testament
Six Geese-a-Laying - Six days of creation before God's rest on the seventh day
Seven Swans-a-Swimming - Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids-a-Milking - Eight Beatitudes or Blessings
Nine Ladies Dancing - Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten Lords-a-Leaping - Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping - Eleven faithful disciples
Twelve Drummers Drumming - Twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed
Over the years, verses have been added and altered, but the basic structure has remained the same.
Another theory injects the possibility that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" began as a "Twelfth-Night" game. The leader recited a verse and then each of the players repeated the verse. As each "round" was completed, the leader added another verse until one of the players made a mistake. The erring player was then obliged to pay a penalty of a kiss or a sweet.
Since the song's history is older than its first written version, no one can be certain of its origin. But we can be certain that it has become a part of the very fabric of our Christmas celebrations.
Get the lyrics to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" and make it a part of your traditions too...