Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of our Christmas celebrations these days happen in the days leading up to Christmas, but that has not always been the case. In 567, the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days of Christmas (the days from Christmas Day until Epiphany, to be a sacred season. Historically there was a suspension of work, celebrations of Saints Days, and many festivities, especially on the final evening (Twelfth Night).

I’m sure you’ve heard the Christmas song about the twelve days of Christmas. Did you know it may have a hidden meaning? One theory about the origins of this carol links it to the period when Catholicism was outlawed in England (1558-1829). Since Catholics could not practice their faith openly, the song was developed as a sort of catechism to teach the fundamentals of belief surreptitiously. There’s no overwhelming evidence to support this idea, but it is interesting.

Here are the verses of the song, along with their supposed symbolism:

  • A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus Christ
  • Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments
  • Three French Hens – The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
  • Four Calling Birds – Four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • Five Golden Rings – First five books of the Old Testament
  • Six Geese-a-Laying – Six days of creation before God’s rest on the seventh day
  • Seven Swans-a-Swimming – Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Eight Maids-a-Milking – Eight Beatitudes
  • Nine Ladies Dancing – Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • Ten Lords-a-Leaping – Ten Commandments
  • Eleven Pipers Piping – Eleven faithful disciples
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming –Twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed

For more Christmas carols, see these posts:

12 Days of Christmas Carols- Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

Famous Christmas Carols – Story Behind the Carol – “O Come All Ye Faithful”

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear


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