Monday, December 19, 2005
The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster by Xavier Romero-Frias


According of popular tradition, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly from 1558 until 1829. During that era this carol was written as a catechism song for young Catholics. It had two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ. A partridge often feigns fury to draw attention to herself and away from her young to protect them from danger. Because of its self-sacrifice the partridge was used to represent Christ.

Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments. Because they have one mate for life the turtle doves represent enduring relationships, such as the unbreakable bond between the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stood for the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation. (Eggs represent new life.)

Seven swans a-swimming represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit [Ed. this catechetical story would be more apt if this represented the seven sacraments, something that Anglicans then did not accept.]

The eight maids a-milking stand for the eight beatitudes which Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount to spell out blessings for the meek and lowly.

Nine ladies dancing represent the fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.

The ten lords a-leaping stand for the law and leadership symbolized by the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers stood for the eleven disciples who remained faithful to Christ.

The twelve drummers drumming represented the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

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