The Twelve Days of Christmas: Profound Nonsense

By Monique Sammut | December 26, 2017
Creativity and Persecution

We have all heard the song The Twelve Days of Christmas and to most of us it probably sounds very much like nonsense.  Why was this song written?

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (the sixteenth century) it was a crime to be Catholic in England privately or publicly.  During this time when many were dying for their faith, how was the faith preserved?  Catholics in those days had to be very creative and they often disguised Catholicism in ways they could still practice their faith without getting caught (hopefully).

The Twelve Days of Christmas

This nonsensical song about the twelve days of Christmas, was invented by a Jesuit missionary during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to teach children the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith.  It was known as a “catechism song.”  The song was easy to memorize so they could not be caught with anything in writing.

So what exactly do the words in the song mean?

A Secret Code

Twelve Days of Christmas – The season of Christmas from December 26 until the Epiphany on January 6

My True Love God the Father

Me – Every baptized person

The Partridge – Jesus

The Pear Tree – The cross of Christ

Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments

Three French Hens – The Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity); the Blessed Trinity; and the gifts of the Three Wise Men (Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh)

Four Calling Birds – The Four Gospels and Evangelists of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the four Major Prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel)

Five Golden Rings – The first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and God’s eternal nature, love, and faithfulness

Six Geese A-Laying – The six days of creation

Seven Swans A-Swimming – The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; the seven sacraments; the seven Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy; the Seven deadly sins; and the seventh day of creation when God rested

Eight Maids A-Milking – The Eight Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing – The nine Choirs of Angels

Ten Lords A-Leaping – The Ten Commandments

Eleven Pipers Piping – The eleven faithful Apostles (Peter, James, John, Andrew, Phillip, Jude Thaddeus, Thomas, Matthew, James, Bartholomew, and Simon)

Twelve Drummers Drumming – The twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed; the twelve original apostles (see eleven but add Judas, the traitor); Twelve Minor Prophets of the Old Testament (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi); the Twelve Tribes of Israel; and the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit

New Meaning

This Christmas, when you hear the song The Twelve Days of Christmas playing, you can think of the marvelous gift of Jesus’ birth and the many blessings He showers on us every day!  Remember, Christ comes to us “disguised” in the form of a baby and present in everyone around us.

Where will you find Him this Christmas?

“Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?  This is Christ revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.”