Nearly everyone has heard the traditional holiday tune, The 12 Days of Christmas. To most listeners it seems to have little meaning. So, let’s take a look at this song’s history and interpretations.
What Are the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Like Christmas itself, this traditional song originates from the Christian religion and is possibly almost as old as Jesus himself. The twelve days of Christmas starts on December 25th with “day one” which is traditionally called St. Stephen’s Day or Christmas Eve. It continues through January 6th when we get to “Day Eleven” – Epiphany. On that day, Jesus was revealed as God in human form by three wise men who visited him after he had been born in Bethlehem. This event marked his baptism into Christianity.
The History of The Twelve Days of Christmas
Traditionally the twelve days cover Christmas day until Epiphany (1/6). In some countries every day of the twelve is celebrated with small gifts, while in other areas gifts only arrive on Christmas day.
By far, the era that celebrated Christmastide with panache is the Middle Ages. The parties seemed never-ending, perhaps still bearing remnants of Pagan traditions such as Roman Saturnalia. There were all manner of silliness (such as men dressing as women and visa versa) that afforded a sense of liberation in otherwise socially uptight times.
On the other side of the ocean, in Colonial America, the idea of the 12 Days continued on. Many homes began the season by greening the house (hanging wreaths and garlands). They ended the season by taking down the decorations and finishing up leftovers (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?).
Some believe that the song originated as a way to teach tenants of faith. First, the true love, mentioned in the song, from this perspective, is God. The rest of the verses follow Biblical or dogmatic tie-ins as follows:
Turtle Doves the two Testaments of the Bible French Hens The trinity (or the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity) Calling Birds The Four Gospels Golden Rings the Pentateuch Geese-A-Laying the creation story Swans-A-Swimming the seven sacraments Maids a Milking – the Beatitudes Ladies Dancing Fruits of the Holy Spirit Lords a Leaping 10 Commandments Pipers? Piping the faithful apostles
Drummers Drumming: The Specific Points to the Apostles?
More research shows, however, that while meaningful, this idea is an urban legend. For one thing, limiting such a teaching to one part of the year makes little sense. There’s also no obvious relationship that can be drawn between the verses gifts and the Christian interpretation without really stretching it. In fact the song was a kind of memory game where people who couldn’t remember the next line lost. until one was left standing, having originally appeared in a late 1700s children’s book.
In conclusion thanks for reading my article and I hope you’ve learnt some interesting information about this rather repetitive song and if you don’t already know but would like to hear how it is sung then here is a link that will take you to a YouTube video showing just that.