Origin of "Twelve Days of Christmas"
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 torso.
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 Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
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 seven sacraments
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 Apostle's Creed