"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Re-post)

We set up our Christmas tree yesterday. Sometimes it's too easy to go through the motions without thinking of the true miracle of Jesus's birth. As I do every year, I try to get my kids (and myself) to think of why we do what we do during the Christmas season. This is a post I've taken from last year. It's the story behind that famous holiday song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Hopefully it will be a great start to giving meaning to the season.

During the sixteenth century, British Catholics were forbidden to practice their faith. Those who broke this law were put into prison, or, if the crime proved severe enough, they would be hung or drawn and quartered. Still, millions refused to abandon their faith and went underground. The Twelve Days of Christmas was a song teaching Catholic children the doctrine of the church. So what do golden rings or a partridge in a pear tree have to do with things of spiritual importance? Keep reading and you may never think of this song the same again.

The children were taught that only pure and true love came from God, so this song was about a heavenly love, not about a boy’s crush on a girl.

Single partridge in a pear tree—A mother partridge lures enemies away from her defenseless chicks in order to protect them. As she sacrifices her own life for her children, so did Christ for us. The pear tree is a symbol of the cross on which Jesus died.

Two turtle doves—symbols of truth and peace, representing the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens—in the sixteenth century, these were expensive food items reserved for the wealthy. These represent the gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought to the newborn king by the wise men.

Four calling birds—the four authors who told the story of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Five golden rings—stood for the five Old Testament books known as the “law of Moses.” These were to remind the singer of man’s fall from grace, and the awesome fact that a Savior would indeed come to offer salvation.

Six geese a-laying—eggs are a symbol for new life. These six represents how God made the world in six days.

Seven swans a-swimming—the gifts of the Holy Spirit—prophesy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy.

Eight maids a-milking—represents the common man (or woman) whom Christ had come to serve and save. The number eight also represents the beatitudes listed in Matthew: blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker, and the righteous.

Nine ladies dancing—the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Ten lords a-leaping—the Ten Commandments, represented by lords, who were honorable men and the voice of law in their domain.

Eleven pipers piping—Jesus’ eleven true apostles who took the message of his life and resurrection to the world.

Twelve drummers drumming—symbolizes “The Apostles’ Creed,” taught to all Catholics, containing a dozen different elements.

There you have it—so much more than a silly holiday song, after all. If this song comes dancing across your radio this week, may it be yet another reminder of the true meaning of Christmas!


  1. Oh yes, Heidi! I remember when you posted about this first time and thought it was so interesting. Thanks for re-posting it, I'm thankful for the reminder.

  2. Oh yes, I remember this post! But it's worthy of re-posting! So neat how that song is full of beautiful meaning.

    I hope you're having a lovely Advent, friend!

  3. Thanks Cindy and Melanie. Glad you enjoyed. Blessings to both of you!

  4. Very cool, Heidi! I've never heard of these meanings. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hate to be "that guy" but every time I read something like this I do a little research. As society we pass along feel good emails without verifying their authenticity. Sadly Christians are one of the biggest offenders in my experience.

    Though a great story that may have even helped me tolerate what I consider the most obnoxious of Christmas songs, the story just is not true.



  6. Thanks Sarah!

    Hi Pete, your comment definitely gave me pause. It's my mistake that I didn't cite where I picked up this information from in my re-post. This information is from Ace Collins' STORIES BEHIND THE BEST-LOVED SONGS OF CHRISTMAS.

    I assumed the author had his research correct, but since reading your comment I did read some reviews that questioned its authenticity. Whether or not these people have their information correct is another matter.

    Either way, I view this song differently now. It makes me ponder the essentials of my own faith.

    Thanks for reading and keeping me on my toes! God bless!