Twelve Days of Christmas

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Received via e-mail:

There is one Christmas carol that has always baffled me. What in th world do leaping lords, French hens, Swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come ot of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

Today, I found out.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

  • The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ
  • Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments
  • Three French hens stand for faith, hope, and love
  • The four calling birds are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
  • The five golden rings recall the Torah, or Law: the first five books of the Old Testament
  • The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation
  • Seven swans a swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophesy, serving, preaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy
  • The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes
  • Nine ladies dancing are the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • The ten lords a-leaping are the ten commandments
  • The eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples
  • The twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed

So there is the history lesson for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas carol.

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