Most of us have heard the popular Christmas song - "On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...." and it goes on until the 12th day. It`s a memory exercise and good fun when sung in large groups. There is, however, an interesting story about the song. As with most stories and songs that have been handed down the ages, what we must look for here is neither history nor testimony. Just academic interest and fun.
According to " A Celebration and History" by Leigh Grant, the written lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" first appeared in `Mirth without Mischief` in the early 1780s in England. Grant states that the tune to which these words are sung apparently dates back much further and came from France.
`Mirth without Mischief` describes "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a type of memory game played by children at that time. A leader recited the first verse, the next child recited the second verse, and so on, until someone missed a verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game. There was no religious significance.
There is another version.
Most folks are familiar with the Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas". If you listen to the words carefully, it seems like a fun rhyme set to music. However, it was written with a serious purpose.
It is more than just a list of twelve silly gifts.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith.
The song`s gifts had hidden meanings to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn`t refer to an earthly suitor, but it refers to God Himself.
The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptised person, i.e., the church. The "partridge" in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Here is a complete list of the 12 symbols with their meanings.
- Partridge in a pear tree = The One true God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
- TurtleDoves = The Old and New Testaments.
- French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity.
- Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists.
- Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch" which contain the law condemning us of our sins.
- Geese A-laying = the six days of creation.
- Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith.
- Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes.
- Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Spirit.
- Lords A-leaping = the Ten Commandments.
- Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles.
- Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle`s Creed.
Interesting details such as these are available in plenty on the Net. Makes interesting reading. So, the next time you sing along, you know what you really are singing about.