Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Wikipedia provides a good explanation for the twelve days of Christmas... which begins on Christmas evening (December 25) and continues every night until the Epiphany:
The Twelve Days of Christmas and the associated evenings of those twelve days (Twelve-tide), are the festive days beginning the evening of Christmas Day (December 25) through the morning of Epiphany (January 6). The associated evenings of the twelve days begin on the evening before the specified day. Thus, the first night of Christmas is December 25–26, and Twelfth Night is January 5–6. This period is also known as Christmastide.

Over the centuries, differing churches and sects of Christianity have changed the actual traditions, time frame, and their interpretations. St. Stephen's Day, for example, is December 26 in the Western Church and December 27 in the Eastern Church. December 26 is Boxing Day in the United Kingdom and some of its former colonies; December 28 is Childmas or the Feast of the Innocents. Currently, the 12 days and nights are celebrated in widely varying ways around the world. For example, some give gifts only on Christmas night, some only on Twelfth Night, and some each of the 12 nights. What remains constant is celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th, and a period of twelve days and nights following leading to Epiphany.
As with just about everything, there is also an urban legend that is associated with the "Twelve Days of Christmas":
Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from ANY practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime to BE a Catholic.

The songs gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the [Catholic] faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."

The other symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

plez sez: growing up in suburban new york in the early 70's didn't afford much time to delve into the true meaning of the twelve days of christmas... until tonight, i thought the twelve days of christmas ended on christmas day!

i just remember the fun we had in school singing the (now) annoyingly repetitious song, which is about as annoyingly repetitious as "crank dat soulja boy" or "chocolate rain."

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you from plezWorld... and a partridge in a pear tree!


David Sullivan said...

I remember your post about "Zeigeist".

Man has constantly had to invent and reinvent new ways to celebrate religious holidays. Its funny how it all revolves around the one constant we all share which is the "revolutions" and tilt of the earth!

Enjoy your Holidays!

plez... said...


happy holidays to you and your family!

something tells me this whole Christmas thing just grew out of the need to drink (and get drunk) during the LONG COLD WINTER NIGHTS in late december and early january!!!

The Stepfather of Soul said...

Very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing!