The Origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas

You're all familiar with the Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" I think. To most it's a delightful nonsense rhyme set to music. But it had a quite serious purpose when it was written.

It is a good deal more than just a repetitious melody with pretty phrases and a list of strange gifts.

Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from ANY practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime to BE a Catholic.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith - a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in *writing* indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, it could get you hanged, or shortened by a head - or hanged, drawn and quartered, a rather peculiar and ghastly punishment I'm not aware was ever practiced anywhere else. Hanging, drawing and quartering involved hanging a person by the neck until they had almost, but not quite, suffocated to death; then the party was taken down from the gallows, and disembowelled while still alive; and while the entrails were still lying on the street, where the executioners stomped all over them, the victim was tied to four large farm horses, and literally torn into five parts - one to each limb and the remaining torso.

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 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, much in memory of 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..."

The other symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
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 Apostle's Creed

To: The Web Walker <[email protected]> 
From: Phil Hamilton <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Origins of "Twelve Days of Christmas" Song 

Hello, Wilton,

Thanks for your response. In case you want a little info 
on the origins of the song, I've checked it out some. It 
turns out that the story that many have copied and put on 
their web sites has no basis in fact.

The Austin Public Library research department found 
information in the book Twelve Days of Christmas: A 
Celebration and History, by Leigh Grant, ISBN 0-679-74038-4. 
It says the words from this song first appeared in a book 
titled Mirth without Mischief. That book came out in 1780 
(or 1783) in England.  The tune apparently dates back much 
further and came from France. That 1780 book describes 
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a "memory and forfeits game" 
played by children at that time. The leader recited the first 
verse, the next child recited the second verse, and this 
continued until someone missed his or her verse and had to 
pay some kind of penalty in the game. "The Twelve Days of 
Christmas" became popular at the "12th-night parties" that 
took place in the Christmas season. 

For more information about the origins of this song and the 
false information that has been circulating via the Internet, 
you can check out and search for 
"The Twelve Days of Christmas." 

By the way, when I check out the accuracy of stuff I receive 
or see on the Internet, these other sites also prove valuable:
 (The U.S. Department of Energy operates this site.);=0&
  (Symantec, the maker of Norton Anti-Virus Software and many other programs, maintains this site.)

Have a great holiday season!

Phil Hamilton

          Philip M. Hamilton, CPA
       Certified Valuation Analyst

                 A Member of the American Business Appraisers´┐Ż
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