January 03, 2006

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Those who have visited Lili's Blog today will have seen her lovely "Five Golden Rings" Margaret Sherry design which is one of the Twelve Days of Christmas. As Lili (and probably many others!) may be rather mystified by the song and what it all means, I thought it would be of interest to have a brief explanation of it here:

The Twelve Days of Christmas song dates back to 16th Century England when Catholicism was outlawed in favour of Protestantism and it became an offence (punishable by death) to practice or even talk about it. Hence the song was thought up as an easy way for people to memorise the main principles without the need to write it down and "disguising" the true meaning in the words of a Christmas song:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree represents Christ as a Partridge who protects her young by pretending to be injured
2 Turtle Doves - The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens - Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds - the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings - The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace
6 Geese a-Laying - the six days of creation
7 Swans a-Swimming - the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids a-Milking - the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing - the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords a-Leaping - the Ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming - the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed


Lili said...

Thank you so much for all these explanations, Ali! I've learnt a lot thanks to you! I have other questions: is it a song that you still sing for Christmas? Are there other "celebrations" or such around the twelve days of Christmas? Is there a santa Lucia in all this stuff? And if so, why?

Thank you again!


Bastet said...

I never knew that song had any real meaning behind it. Grew up thinking it was one of those silly songs that almost every holiday has. Though also being raised Prot, I wouldn't've thought of half of those to begin with, let alone tie it to the song. I think the closest I came to the real meaning was when i thought the twelve days of gift giving had something to do with Hanakah(sp)

And Lili, yes it's still sung every year and played on the radio. It's considered a "tradional christmas song"

Ruth Ferguson said...

this was fascinating - thank you!