Happy 1st Day of Christmas. As we embark upon the 12 Days, I thought I’d take you on a journey to the song’s origin and purpose. The background is not a pleasant history. From Catholic Online:
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written in England as one of the “catechism songs” to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith – a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in *writing* indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, it could get you hanged, or shortened by a head – or hanged, drawn and quartered, a rather peculiar and ghastly punishment I’m not aware was ever practiced anywhere else. Hanging, drawing and quartering involved hanging a person by the neck until they had almost, but not quite, suffocated to death; then the party was taken down from the gallows, and disembowelled while still alive; and while the entrails were still lying on the street, where the executioners stomped all over them, the victim was tied to four large farm horses, and literally torn into five parts – one to each limb and the remaining torso.
The songs 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.
Today, the First Day, is a Patridge in a Pear Tree, representing Jesus. The partridge is a unique bird. It will pretend to be injured in order to protect its babies from predators. Jesus as the Son of God set aside his Godly Nature to die in order to protect his flock of baptised believers.
“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…” (Jesus in Matt 23:37-39, Douay-Rheims Challoner Bible)
From Catholic Online, here are the other symbols:
1 Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus Christ, Son of God
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
So now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story. Remember it as you give thanks to God for the Gift of His Son.
Be blessed and enjoy the Season!