Most of us are familiar with the Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. In spite of its nonsense sounding lyrics, it is believed by many to have been written for a serious purpose at the time when Catholic priests like St David Lewis were being martyred for their faith. It is said to be one of the “catechism songs” written as an aid to teaching Catholics the tenets of their faith during the days of persecution in England when the Catholic religion was proscribed. For various reasons, I have my doubts about the veracity of that account but it is an interesting concept and I will pass on the story as it was told to me.
The “true love” mentioned in the song refers to God Himself.
The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptised person.
The “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem; “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so....”
1 Partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = the Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Colley Birds = the Four Gospels /the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament
6 Geese-a-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans-a-swimming = the seven Sacraments or the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
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 Apostles Creed
There you have it! As I said, I have my doubts as to this being the origin of the song. However, be the account fact or fiction, it will have done some good if, upon hearing again “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, the remembrance of this story causes us to have even a brief holy thought. Now, as the twelve days of Christmas begin, let’s remember to pray for Christ’s peace in our hearts, in our homes and in our world.