Everyone knows the popular Christmas song entitled, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."Many people mistakenly assume that the twelve days precede the birth of Jesus, and end on December 25th. This is incorrect. The twelve days begin with the birth of the Christ child, and end on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany. They chronicle the twelve days that the Wise Men followed the star which led them to the manger where baby Jesus lay. Though entirely secular in its appearance, the song actually contains much deeper meaning. During the late 16th century, persecuted Catholics in England were actually prohibited from practicing their religion, in all of its forms: written stories, word of mouth, singing, etc. The price to pay for breaking the King's law was often imprisonment, but a severe infraction could lead to death by hanging or beheading.
As a form of secret protest, Catholics created the seemingly nonsensical lyrics that hide teachings found in the Bible. In this way older, practicing Catholics were able to pass along their religious traditions and teaching to their children without risking punishment. Let's take a look at the meaning of the lyrical symbols
- The First Day of Christmas - A Partridge in a Pear Tree - This represents Jesus Christ, the son of God and savior to the Christian world.
- The Second Day of Christmas - Two Turtle Doves - The doves represent the Old and New Testaments, the two books that comprise the Holy Bible.
- The Third Day of Christmas - Three French Hens- The theological Virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity, and are symbolized by this particular sign.
- The Fourth Day of Christmas - Four Calling Birds- This symbol represents two similar ideas: the four Gospels and their writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- The Fifth Day of Christmas - Five Golden Rings- Leaning towards literacy, this stands for the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentatuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
- The Sixth Day of Christmas - Six Geese A-Laying- In Genesis, the creation story is told in which God takes six days to create the world; this symbol recognizes those words.
- The Seventh Day of Christmas - Seven Swans A-Swimming -This covers the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith: baptism, communion, reconciliation (the idea that sins are forgiven once you confess and repent), confirmation, marriage, ordination, and the ritual of last rights.
- The Eighth Day of Christmas - Eight Maids A-Milking- The maids represent the eight Beatitudes, which can be found in the passage of the Bible that talks about the Sermon on the Mount. Condensed, they are: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are they who mourn, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice's sake.
- The Ninth Day of Christmas - Nine Ladies Dancing- This symbol represents the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
- The Tenth Day of Christmas - Ten Lords A-Leaping- Reflects the Ten Commandments, brought down by Moses and passed down as Catholic law. (No need to reprint them here)
- The Eleventh Day of Christmas - Eleven Pipers Piping - The eleven faithful apostles are remembered in this particular symbol: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Jude, and Simon (though there were twelve, Judas is excluded due to his betrayal of Christ)
- The Twelfth Day of Christmas - Twelve Drummers Drumming- The final verse refers to the the doctrine of the Apostle's Creed and the twelve points included therein (belief in God the Father almighty, belief in Jesus Christ his only Son - our Lord, that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was crucified, died and was buried, then he descended into hell, that he rose again the third day, that he ascended into heaven, that he is seated at the right hand of the Father, that he is to come to judge the living and the dead, belief in the Holy Ghost, belief in the holy catholic Church and the communion of saints, belief in the remission of sins, and belief in the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal.)
Now you know the true meaning of, "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Next time you listen to it, perhaps it will take on a slightly greater meaning that it might have once had.