Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas Carol Has Special Meaning

One English Christmas carol well-known worldwide today is, however, more than a repetitious tune with pretty phrases and strange gifts. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a song with different levels of meaning.

From 1558 to 1829, the Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. During this period, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as a catechism song for young Catholics. The hidden meanings of the song's gifts were intended to help the children remember lessons of their faith. Instead of referring to an earthly suitor, the "true love" mentioned in the song refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents is symbolic of every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The meaning of the other symbols are:

Two turtle doves - the Old and New Testaments;

Three French hens - Faith, Hope and Charity;

Four calling birds - the four Gospels;

Five golden rings - the first five books of the Old Testament, which give the history of man's fall from grace;

Six geese a-laying - the six days of creation;

Seven swans a-swimming - seven gifts of the Holy Spirit;

Eight maids a-milking - the eight Beatitudes;

Nine ladies dancing - nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;

Ten lords a-leaping - the Ten Commandments;

Eleven pipers piping - the eleven faithful disciples;

Twelve drummers drumming - the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed (cf. "Newsletter of the Catholic Medical Mission Board", December, 1988).


Source: The above is excerpted from A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, written by Ann Ball and published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Image shown: Twleve Days of Christmas from the Marian Library Crèche Collection

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