Listen to God's voice at the foot of the crucifix." ~St. Gaspar del Bufaro~

Sunday, January 2, 2011

12 Days of Christmas~Meaning of the Song

The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a Catechism Song
It is said that the Twelve Days of Christmas song lyrics were written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England (1558 until 1829).  One article I found suggests that the song was written by English Jesuits during the 16th century.
You can also read more about the meaning behind the song at Catholic Culture.
I just love the symbolism and meaning to share with my children as we wrap up the
12 Days of Christmas this week!
We are reading this book with beautiful illustrations from the traditional song.
Then we are comparing the book and traditional song with the real meaning
that I have compiled below here from what I have read and added my own images:

Gift Interpretation
The "12 Days of Christmas" song gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the 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..."
December 25: A Partridge in a pear tree …….. Jesus.
December 26: Two Turtle Doves …….. The Old and New Testaments.
December 27: Three French Hens ……. The three theological virtues – faith, hope and charity.

December 28: Four Calling Birds ……. The four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists:
 ~Matthew, Mark, Luke and John~
December 29: Five Gold Rings …… The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, giving the history of man's fall from grace.
December 30: Six Geese a-Laying …. The six days of Creation.
December 31: Seven Swans a-Swimming ….. Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (piety, fortitude, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fear of the Lord, wisdom). Also it can help us remember the seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.

January 1: Eight Maids a-Milking …… The Eight Beatitudes – a set of eight blessings contained in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Four beatitudes also appear in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke, where they are contrasted with four woes.

January 2: Nine Ladies Dancing ……. Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-31.

January 3: Ten Lords a-Leaping…… The Ten Commandments.

January 4: Eleven Pipers Piping….. The eleven faithful Apostles.
January 5: Twelve Drummers Drumming …… The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed.
From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440. The border shows the legend of the composition of the Apostles' Creed, according to which the Twelve, before dispersing thoughout the world to preach the Gospel, composed the Creed as a sure rule of the Faith, each of them contributing one of the twelve articles. In the center is depicted the legend of the Ten Thousand Martyrs, represented here symbolically by only ten figures.
"Regardless of whether this tale is made up of both fact and fiction, hopefully it will be accepted in the spirit it was written. As an encouragement to people to keep their faith alive, when it is easy, and when any outward expressions of their faith could mean their life. Today there are still people living under similar conditions, may this tale give them courage, and determination to use any creative means at their disposal to keep their faith alive."
~Fr. Hal Stockert~


  1. You know, I just heard about the "true" meanings maybe a year or two ago. I did not know that Jan Brett had a book on this song. Good to know. I love Jan Brett

  2. I had no idea and we were just talking about this song, my husband will love this! Thanks for sharing and I will have to add the book to my wish list :)

  3. I love that! We read the "hidden meanings" a few years ago and our older two thought it was wonderful. They get really annoyed with the secular "celebrating" during Advent and Christmas seasons.
    Well, off to bless the house--Happy Epiphany.

  4. i love the images you chose for your post Tiffany. I"ve seen Jan Brett's book at the bookstore and felll in love with it, but thought it was perhaps a little old for my daughter, so it's on my "be sure to get later" list. I read about the hidden meaning of the 12 Days some time ago, and was enthralled by it. I loved reading about it again.

  5. What a great post on the 12 days of Christmas!! You found great images Tiffany!! This is not a tradition in Mexico, but I love all the meaning behind it!


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