The History of the “12 Days of Christmas”

Like many customs and traditions associated with the Christmas season, stories vary as to their exact origins. The following information about the traditional Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, was found on an internet website:

“The 12 Days of Christmas” was originally published as a Christmas Carol in 1780. But some say its origins go all the way back to the 16th century when Catholicism was banned in England and Ireland. During the centuries when it was a crime to be Catholic and to practise one’s faith, in public or private, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written as a “catechism song” to help young Catholics learn the beliefs of their faith. It was a memory aid – when being caught with anything in writing indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, it could get you hanged.

The songs gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The “true love” mentioned in the song doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The following indicates the reputed meanings of the twelve gifts mentioned in the song:

  1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus Christ, the son of God
  2. Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments
  3. Three French Hens – Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues.
  4. Four Calling Birds – The four Gospels and/or the four Evangelists
  5. Five Gold Rings – The first five books of the Old Testament (The Pentateuch)
  6. Six Geese A-Laying – Six Days of Creation
  7. Seven Swans a Swimming – The seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit or the seven Sacraments.
  8. Eight Maids a-Milking – The eight Beatitudes
  9. Nine Ladies Dancing – The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  10. Ten Lords A-Leaping – The Ten Commandments
  11. Eleven Pipers Piping – The eleven Faithful Apostles
  12. Twelve Drummers Drumming – The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

You can download a copy of this as a pupil handout HERE