My careless attitude about “The 12 Days of Christmas” song now shames me. For I have researched the history and the meaning behind this old, traditional carol, and the generally believed truth is frightening. Even if the Catholic popes and priests took a modern Christmas carol and attributed their own meaning to the song’s gifts, the debateable meaning holds significance for all Christians.
What Catholics Claim the Gifts in “The 12 Days of Christmas” Song Represent
God, the Holy Father, represented the “true love” who sent the gifts to us, the beloved. And each gift equated to the 12 teachings in Catholicism. What each gift represented is listed below:
- A partridge in a pear tree = Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross
- Two turtle doves = Both the Old and New Testaments
- Three French hens = The Three Theological Virtues (a.k.a. Faith, Hope, and Charity)
- Four calling birds = The Four Gospels found in the New Testament
- Five golden rings = The Pentateuch (a.k.a. the first five books in the Old Testament)
- Six geese a-laying = How God created the world in six days
- Seven swans a-swimming = The Seven Sacraments (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit’s seven gifts)
- Eight maids a-milking = The Eight Beatitudes (a.k.a. how the blessed will be rewarded)
- Nine ladies dancing = The Nine Spiritual Fruits (i.e. love, joy, peace, and so on)
- Ten lords a-leaping = The Ten Commandments
- Eleven pipers piping = The 12 Disciples, minus Judas the Betrayer
- Twelve drummers drumming = The Apostle’s Creed’s 12 doctrinal points (i.e. belief in God, belief in the Son, and so on)
While all Christian denominations can recognize at least some teachings from above, all 12 are included within Catholicism. Making this song a great catechism for all Catholics.
The Reason Behind “The 12 Days of Christmas” Song
Many people scoff at the list above. They provide arguments about the greater complexity within Catholicism and say Christians within all denominations share these teachings. As a Christian, I would argue differently.
Yes, I know about the Old and New Testaments, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Spiritual Fruits, and so forth. However, to have learned the exact numbers for all these biblical books and spiritual gifts and fruits, I would have needed to obtain a pastoral license. Simply thinking about the spiritual fruits and practices makes me think more exist than what the song lists above.
Back on point: People have argued about the song dating back to the 16th Century when Queen Elizabeth I reigned. For, according to some accounts, Catholics needed to learn “The 12 Days of Christmas” catechism in secret for fear of being found out, brutally tortured, imprisoned and killed.
What to Remember About “The 12 Days of Christmas” Song
Please don’t argue about the meaning behind this Christmas carol. For that is exactly what it is, a Christmas song! Catholics, and all Christians in general, can learn about their faith in other ways. Memorizing Scripture is possible, especially with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Therefore, be joyful! Remember to sing those Christmas carols loudly. Smile when others badmouth the season. And meditate on the true significance to Christmas, Jesus Christ’s birth!