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On the First Day of Christmas…

By Watchman | December 22, 2009

“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:

12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords a-leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a-milking, 7 swans a-swimming, 6 geese a-laying, five gold rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtledoves, and a Partridge in a pear tree.–Old Irish Carol

     Growing up, I never considered the origins of the 12 Days of Christmas (although the British produced a wonderfully funny short movie–I think in the ’40s–showing what a household would look like as these gifts arrived), and it certainly never occurred to me that the roots of this carol were Christian in nature.  As a young adult I learned it dated back to the ancient days when England was in the midst of a scourge of Catholicism.  Whoever was at the helm of the various European monarchies also determined the official religious leanings of the empires, often resulting in extreme persecution for whichever branch of Christianity–Catholicism or Protestantism–was not in favor at the moment.  Needless to say, God never intended for these persecutions to take place, but with the leaders of the church and the leaders of the empires somewhat entwined and so much power reposing on these leaders, it was perhaps inevitable that they would occur.  At any rate, although I had learned that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was a carol written in code by a Catholic who used it to teach church doctrine under the guise of a secular song, I didn’t know what each of the “gifts” represented.  However, a few years ago I discovered the meaning in a novel by author Emma Jensen:

12 drummers drumming=the 12 articles of the Apostles’ Creed

11 pipers piping=11 faithful apostles

10 lords a-leaping=the 10 Commandments

9 ladies dancing=9 orders of angels

8 maids a-milking=eight beatitudes

7 swans a-swimming=the 7 sacraments

6 geese a-laying=the 6 days of creation

5 gold rings=the first 5 books of the OT (the Torah)

4 calling birds=the 4 Gospels

3 French hens=Faith, Hope and Charity (Love)

2 turtledoves=the Old and New Testaments

Partridge in a pear tree–Christ in the manger, or alternatively on the cross. 

     No matter what denomination one adheres to, it is clear that this lovely and clever coded Christmas carol has found a permanent place in the hearts of people everywhere!

Merry Christmas!


Topics: Special Seasons of Worship | 1 Comment »

One Response to “On the First Day of Christmas…”

  1. Susan Says:
    December 23rd, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Hey Melissa! Wow, good going there. I’d never heard this at all. Of course there is a lot of stuff I’m sure I have never heard. On the other hand there is a lot of stuff I’ve heard I’d just as soon not to. 🙂

    Thank you for the info my friend, I’ll never hear this the same way again. Thank GOD!

    Merry Christmas!!