12 Days of Christmas

Primary school students learned the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It has a jaunty tune and repeats information which appeals to these students. Most students and holiday revelers had no idea that the popular carol was a hidden catechism for Catholics. For about 300 years (1558 – 1829) during a time of severe persecution in England, Catholics used this carol to transmit the Catholic faith from one generation to another. In the carol, basic tenets of the Catholic faith were symbolized.  Here are the verses of the song:

The Carol and Interpretation:

  • On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. Me refers to all baptized persons, and more specifically, to all Catholics. A partridge in a pear tree refers to Jesus Christ. A pear tree references the wood of the manager.
  • On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Two turtle doves refer to the two parts of the Bible, Old and New Testaments.
  • On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Three French hens are the Trinity: God, Son, Holy Spirit.
  • On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Four calling birds are the four Gospels.
  • On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible.
  • On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Six geese a-laying are the six days of creation.
  • On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Seven swans a-swimming are the seven sacraments of the Catholic church.
  • On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Eight maids a-milking refers to the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
  • On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Nine ladies dancing refers to the eight levels of angels.
  • On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Ten lords a-leaping is the Ten Commandments.
  • On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Eleven pipers piping refer to the eleven apostles (minus Judas).
  • On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Twelve drummers drumming refers to the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

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