Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The 12 days of Christmas explained

You may have wondered about that strange carol involving lords-a-leaping and French hens. I know that I have.

Well here's the story. It arrived yesterday, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. If you know otherwise, please advise.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. That is a very long time.

During that period, someone wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning --- the surface meaning,
plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church.

Each element in the carol has a code word with religious significance that the children could remember:
• The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

•The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

• The three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

• The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

• The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

• The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

• Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit --- Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

• The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

• Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness,  Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

• The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

• The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

• The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
Isn't that a wonderful explanation. I will enjoy that carol so much more in future.


  1. Hi Geezer,

    Not to burst your Christmas ornaments, but Snopes says this is a myth:

    Happy holidays anyway,


  2. Thanks, Doug. I read much of the Snopes item, and it seems there are many possible explanations for the words of the carol. While it appears that the explanation in my post is probably inaccurate, I am going to leave it here, as there appears to be no definitively correct explanation, the historical background is undisputed, and I like this particular Christmas ornament.

    Very best Holiday wishes.