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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

12 Days

Have you ever wondered about the origins of some of our Christmas songs? I mean songs like "White Christmas" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" seem to have not particular purpose or meaning to an otherwise religious holiday. So what is their purpose? What inspired someone to write such songs?

One particular song that has always intrigued me is the "Twelve Days of Christmas." It has been seasonal favorite for generations and is sung often. But I have often wondered why. Does it have a purpose or meaning? Some would like to think so.

In England, between 1558 and 1829, it was not legal for Catholics to practice their kind of Christianity in private or in public. Being a Catholic was treated as a bad crime. If you even owned a Catholic Bible, you could be put in prison! Catholics were stopped from worshipping because King Henry VIII fell out with the Catholic Church and started his own Protestant Church (the Church of England ).

There were many people who were still Catholics and they worshipped in secret. 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' was written in England at the beginning of this time. Some people think that it was written to help children learn about their Catholic religion. In the carol, the days are supposed to represent special symbols and have hidden meanings, because it was illegal to have anything in writing that would indicate that you were a Catholic.

But there's no evidence that this is true and it seems most likely just to be a folk song and the meaning were added at a later date! Also, all the symbols can be used by Protestants and other Christians!

There was another song called 'A New Dial', written in 1625, which gave religious meanings to the 12 Days of Christmas, but not so people could practice their faith is secret. If you'd like to know more about this, you can check out the 12 Days of Christmas at

The 12 Days of Christmas refer to the twelve day period that starts with Christmas day and ends on Epiphany (6th January). The song begins, On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me... The 'true love' was meant to represent God, the true love of the world. The 'me' in the carol is the Christian man or woman who receives these presents.

The meanings given to the gifts of the 12 Days are as follows:

The 'partridge in a pear tree' is Jesus who died on the cross. In ancient times a partridge was often used as mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king.

The 'two turtle doves' are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible - another gift from God. Doves also symbolise peace.

The 'three French hens' are faith, hope and love - the three gifts of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 13 ). The French hens can also represent God the Father, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The 'four calling birds' are the four Gospels in the New Testament of the Bible.

The 'five golden rings' are the first five books of the Bible also called the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses or the Torah.

The 'six geese a-laying' are the six days of creation.

The 'seven swans a swimming' are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11)

The 'eight maids a milking' are the eight beatitudes, Jesus' teachings on happiness. (See Matthew 5:3-10)

The 'nine ladies dancing' are nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22)

The 'ten lords a-leaping' are the Ten Commandments in the Bible. (See Exodus 20)

The 'eleven pipers piping' are the eleven faithful disciples of Jesus.

The 'twelve drummers drumming' were the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.

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