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‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’—The Real Story

That’s the one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me.  What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

This week, I found out.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were

not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone

during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics.

It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning

plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church.

Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality

which the children could then remember easily.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching,  Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness,  Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol…so pass it on if you wish!

Merry (Twelve Days of) Christmas Everyone – and, remember, the Twelve Days of Christmas are the 12 days following December 25th.  The Christmas Season runs until Epiphany, January 6.

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