There is a legend which says that during the time in Ireland when it was a crime to be Catholic and to practice one’s faith during the Christmas season, the faithful used “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a waty to help Catholics learn and remember the tenents of their faith. These needed to be memorized because being caught with anything in writing related to the Catholic faith would not only get you imprisoned, it could get you hanged. In the Christmas carol, the gifts represent the teachings of the faith and the “my true love” refers to God himself, and Christmas was a great opportunity to exploit the practice of singing carols as a way to spread the faith. Truly a fitting carol for the Christmas season.
Meanings behind ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’
- A Partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ, the son of God.
- Two turtle doves = The Old and New Testaments
- Three french hens = The theological virtues.
- Four calling birds = The four Gospels
- Five golden rings = The first five books of the Old Testament (The Pentateuch)
- Six geese a-laying = Six days of creation. (On the seventh day God rested)
- Seven swans a swimming = The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven Sacraments
the Anointing of the Sick
- Eight maids a-milking = The eight Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blesses are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.
- Nine ladies dancing = The nine choirs of angels. (Alternate versions state the 9 fruits of the Spirit)
- Ten lords a-leaping = The Ten Commandments
1. I am the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no strange gods before Me
2. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
4. Honour thy father and thy mother.
5. Thou shalt not kill.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.
- Eleven pipers piping = The eleven faithful apostles.
James the Greater
James the Lesser
- Twelve drummers drumming = The twelve articles of Faith
God as creator
Jesus as the only Son of God
Christ’s redemptive suffering and death and his descent into hell
His ascension and his divine role as final judge
The Holy Spirit and the work of the Trinity’s Third Person
The universal church
The communion of saints
Forgiveness of sins