As this is a festive season we all have been waiting for, we all enjoy and love to join in the melody of the song ‘twelve days of Christmas whenever we hear it. It is a lovely song that lingers in the heart of many. But then this song has great meaning attached to it as some of us don’t know. The history of this song stretches as far back as the 17th century, precisely 1780 in England without music, chant or rhyme. According to the handbook of Catholic sacramentals by Ann Ball, it was written as a catechism song for young Christians in the days when it was illegal to practice or teach the Catholic/Christian faith. When most people hear of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, they think of the song. This song had its origins as a teaching tool to instruct young people in the meaning and content of the Christian faith.

Each of the items in the song represents something of religious significance. The hidden meaning of each gift was designed to help young Christians learn their faith. The song goes, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…”

The “true love” represents God and the “me” who receives these presents is the Christian. Here you go:

The “partridge in a pear tree” was Jesus Christ who died on a tree as a gift from God.

The “two turtle doves” were the Old and New Testaments – another gift from God.

The “three French hens” were faith, hope and love – the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (I Corinthians 13).

The “four calling birds” were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The “five golden rings” were the first five books of the Bible also called the “Books of Moses”.

The “six geese a-laying” were the six days of creation.

The “seven swans a swimming” were the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit”. (I Corinthians 12:8-11; Romans 12, Ephesians 4; I Peter 4:10-11).

The “eight maids a milking” were the eight beatitudes.

The “nine ladies dancing” were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22 & 23)

The “ten lords a-leaping” were the Ten Commandments.

The “eleven pipers piping” were the eleven faithful disciples.

The “twelve drummers drumming” were the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed.

So, the next time you hear “The 12 Days of Christmas”, consider how this otherwise non-religious sounding song had its origins in the Christian faith. Thank you for reading and hope you leant a lot.


P.Opie and I. Opie(eds), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1951), ISBN 0-19-86911-4 pp. 122-23


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