Last Updated: 12th December, 2018
“The Twelve Days of Christmas”, does it ring a bell? You would have probably listened to this beautiful Christmas carol as a child. But, with Christmas around the corner, the childhood memories will get refreshed again as one hears the wonderful song being played in the markets, malls, and on television. The song has been around for quite some time now, but there is still no concrete information about its origin. While several people think it originated from France, here is what we do know for certain. The English version of the song was published in the year 1780 in a children's book. If you want more information about the song, something that would truly surprise you, then just read on.
Some people believe that this Christmas carol goes back to the 18th century when it was sung as part of a memory and forfeit game. The players were required to memorize the previous verses and add new ones to them. The ones who failed to do so were to give a kiss or a candy to the others as forfeit.
In 1995, Father Hal Stockert’s internet article titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas: An Underground Catechism” circulated another belief around this song. People following Father Stockert, also believe that The Twelve Days of Christmas is related to the period between 1558-1829. This was the time when Catholicism was outlawed and any person practicing the faith was meted with severe punishment such as death. It was to continue Catholicism and to help young Catholics learn the doctrines of their faith that this carol was written. For Father Stockert all the gifts in the song represented the truths of the Catholic faith like partridge in a pear tree signifying Jesus Christ, eight maids-a-milking standing for the Eight Beatitudes, etc. While this belief is widely held up by people, there are no evidences to prove its validity.
The "four calling birds" that are sung about these days were not always "four calling birds". The early versions of the carol have "four mockingbirds", "four canary birds" and even "colly birds".
Since each day in the song refers to some or the other bird, there is a possibility that the "five golden rings" are not the jewelry which is being referred to. Suggestions are made for them to be the yellow coloured rings on the neck of a pheasant or to "goldpinks" which is an old name for the Goldflinch.
The phrase "Twelve Days of Christmas" is not just a phrase buy symbolizes the actual twelve days celebration of the festival beginning with December 25 to January 6. The twelve days are observed with much merriment by Christians of different sects to commemorate the time from Christ’s birth to the manifestation of his glory i.e. the Epiphany.
There are people who exchange gifts only on 25th December however, people in the Unites States exchange gifts on all of the twelve days of the festival. Feasting remains a main practice till the day of the Epiphany.
The traditions in the United Kingdom differ in terms of the customs. People there feast primarily with dishes like plum pudding and roasted goose on the menu. A holiday is also observed on Boxing Day in most of the Commonwealth nations.
The Twelve Days of Christmas start on 25th DEC (Christmas Day) and ends with the eve of Epiphany on 5th January.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" song
True Love refers to God
Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments
French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace
Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation
Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes
Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments
Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles
Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.