The Twelve days of Christmas

During the holiday season, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is heard everywhere from shopping malls to television commercials to church functions. Everywhere you go, you can hear about Two Turtle Doves, Seven Swans-a-Swimming and Eleven Pipers Piping. But what does any of this mean? What does a song about doves, hens and geese have to do with Christmas?
The carol has its roots in 18th-century England, as a memory-and-forfeit game sung by British children. In the game, players had to remember all of the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, in the form of a kiss or a piece of candy to the others.

Another theory says this was a catechism song for Catholics to learn “the tenets of their faith,” as they could not openly practice in Anglican society, due to it being outlawed (around 1558 and 1829).

Here are the verses of the song, along with their supposed symbolism:

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/Collie 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

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

While these verses are what most of us associate with the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” the phrase refers to an actual 12-day period. The 12 days of Christmas, in fa­ct, are the days from Dec. 25, celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, to the Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realised.

Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Church, consider the Epiphany to be the most important day of the Christmas season. Some exchange gifts on each of the 12 days instead of only on Christmas day. Now isn’t that much better than just getting one gift? [NT]