Note: This page is as accurate as I have been able to make it. It is possible some of the details are wrong, but for its purpose, I consider it accurate enough. If you have documented information that would make this more accurate or more detailed, please let me know! Thank you.
As a Kid, I initially liked the song the "12 Days of Christmas" but after awhile, as I grew up, it became tedious and boring. Besides, I never could remember anything higher than "5 Golden rings"
Then one day I was told that the author of the original was thinking about it as a catechism (a teaching/understanding of scripture). Suddenly the song came alive to me, and now it is one of my favorites again. Now, further research showed that this may not have been the original author meant but rather it just was coincidental that it fit thematically so well. But that's OK. I like this way of thinking about it. So I am not claiming I know for sure that this is what the original author meant - but it sure fits well as if he or she did mean it.
On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... my "true love" is Jesus Christ, the savior and, of course, the whole reason for Christmas.
A partridge in a pear tree: A partridge will run away from the nest, letting the fox chase it. Then, if it thinks the eggs are still in danger, it will stop running and let the fox catch it. The pear tree is a fruit tree - the fruit represents the original sin in the Garden of Eden with the tree being the material that the cross was made out of. This verse is to remind us that Jesus willingly died on the cross for us. It is also the first verse so it is sung 12 times, emphasizing that it is the most important verse. (Note that Biblical exegetically speaking, the 12th verse is the least important.) This also supports the supposition that the song was originally French as French partridges apparently are more likely to climb a tree than other partridges. (And yes, I know there is a theory that 'pear' tree was a corruption of a different French word.)
2 turtle doves. 2 Doves or 2 pigeons were sacrificed to God for the birth of every son "after the time of purification" according to the Levitical law. Joseph and Mary did so. Others ascribe this to mean The OLD and NEW testament. The problem with this theory is that the author supposedly was Catholic, and so would have split the Bible into 3 parts: OT, NT and Apochrapha. So the 2 Doves theory fits better.
3 French hens. Back when the song was written, French Hens were suposedly one of the most expensive gifts possible. Literally worth more than their weight in Gold - and this is back when Platinum was a "useless byproduct" of no value. A present of ONE French hen would be a suitable gift for any King. A present of THREE French hens would be extravagant to the maximum. The 3 French hens represent the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. (Some people say it is the 3 Kings - but this is a modern misunderstanding - there were some number of wise men/kings, but they did have 3 gifts. If the song was originally, or later, a source of catechism training - a mistake like this would not have been made.) Given that Gof the Father, God the Son and Got the Holy Spirit are all worth more than Gold, Frankincense and Myhrr, the trinity fits much better with the song). And remember - this is the gift that God gave YOU - and you probably don't think of yourself as Royalty. But if you have accepted Christ as your saviour - you are the son of God, therefore you are a prince or princess of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
4 calling birds: The 4 Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 4 stories of the life of Jesus told in 4 different ways for different audiences. We have the pleasure of being able to read all 4. ('calling' birds may be a mis-translation of the French word for blackbirds - but blackbirds also 'call out' so in my mind, it still fits fine.
5 golden rings. The Pentateuch. Most of the rest of the Bible's theology and meaning can be found in the first 5 books of the Bible - the Penta (five) tuch. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
6 geese a laying. Eggs have represented new life and creation for a long time xan the 6 days of creation (God rested on the 7th and he made us so we should too)
7 swans a swimming. Beautiful, Gracious, words that describe both the 7 swans a swimming and one list of Gifts in the Bible that contains
7 Spiritual Gifts.
8 maids a milking. Wikipedia says (Dec 2010) it was the B-attitudes - clearly didn't do their research on this one since there are 9 of those. Another explanation was that it stood for "5 loaves and 3 fishes" because of the concept of nourishment (a-milking). Sounds more likely.
9 ladies dancing. The Fruits of the spirit - Love, Joy Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self Control (Gal 5:22)
10 lords a leaping. A lord commands and people must obey. Unlike Ladies Dancing, Lords a leaping leads to think more authoritative, "stomping" thoughts. So we have: the 10 commandments.
11 pipers piping. When pipers pipe, people, children, snakes are said to follow. The 11 faithful disciples are the 11 pipers piping.
12 drummers drumming. Try this with a class of kids - start banging a drum and walk around - we tried it in our Sunday school class. Within 15 seconds, every child was in line going exactly where I had walked. The Apostle's Creed, with 12 statements of what we believe, keep us remembering what we believe and staying in line with our beliefs.
While I still sing the song the traditional way, I can't help but think of the meaning behind each of the gifts now. And, in my Fall 1999, Grade 4 Sunday School class, we decided to sing it with bluntness and a whole lot of fun.
On the 12th day of Christmas, my Savior gave to me:
(you can figure the other 11 verses out pretty easily!)
Copyright 1999 and 2004, Peter Horwood and
the 9:00 Grade 4 Centre Street Evangelical Church Sunday School class of Fall
Permission is hereby granted for any private or public no for profit use as long as the credit above is given.