There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world
do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially
the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by "my true love" on one of the twelve days of Christmas.
...and so forth, until the last verse:
- On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
- 12 Drummers Drumming
- 11 Pipers Piping
- 10 Lords-a-Leaping
- 9 Ladies Dancing
- 8 Maids-a-Milking
- 7 Swans-a-Swimming
- 6 Geese-a-Laying
- 5 Gold Rings
- 4 Calling Birds
- 3 French Hens
- 2 Turtle Doves
- And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to
practice their faith openly. Someone during that era used the carol
as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the
surface meaning of gift giving plus a hidden meaning known only to members of
the Catholic Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious
reality which the children could remember.
-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ on the Cross for our Sins.
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love of Jesus for us.
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of
the Old Testament.
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the seven-fold gifts of the Holy
Spirit --- Prophesy,Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit ---Love, Joy,
Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self
-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the
So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I
found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song
became a Christmas Carol...so pass it on if you wish.