ORIGIN OF "THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS"
An Underground Catechism
You're all familiar with the Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of
Christmas" I think. To most it's a delightful nonsense rhyme set
to music. But it had a quite serious purpose when it was written.
It is a good deal more than just a repetitious melody with pretty
phrases and a list of strange gifts.
Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament
finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from ANY
practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime
to BE a Catholic.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the
"catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their
faith - a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in *writing*
indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you
imprisoned, it could get you hanged, or shortened by a head - or
hanged, drawn and quartered, a rather peculiar and
ghastly punishment I'm not aware was ever practiced anywhere else.
Hanging, drawing and quartering
involved hanging a person by the neck until they had almost, but not
quite, suffocated to death; then the party was taken down from the
gallows, and disembowelled while still alive; and while the entrails
were still lying on the street, where the executioners stomped all
over them, the victim was tied to four large farm horses, and
literally torn into five parts - one to each limb and the remaining
The songs gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith.
The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an
earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the
presents refers to every baptized person.
The partridge in a pear tree
is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically
presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy
predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the
expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem:
"Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee
under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have
The other symbols mean the following:
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament,
the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the
--Fr. Hal Stockert, Fishnet