23 December, 2014

The Secret Hidden Within The Twelve Days Of Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching I like to hear the old carols as it transports me back to childhood and all of the happy times with my mum and dad, who are no longer with me.

My dad was a bit of a singer and one of his favourites, which I could always join in as a child, was The Twelve Days Of Christmas: "On the first day of Christmas my true love said to me ..."

But there is a secret about this English Christmas carol. It's one that may be true, though I know many will disagree. Here's an email I received that delves into this song's past. See what you think.

There is one Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days Of Christmas, 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? Today I found out at a church luncheon its origin.

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 secret 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 remember.

* A Partridge In A Pear Tree:
The partridge represents the courage and devotion of Christ dying for his people. A mother partridge will lure predators away from her chicks, even sacrificing her life for them. The pear tree symbolizes the wooden cross upon which Jesus died.

* Two Turtle Doves:
This represents the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Doves also symbolize truth and peace.

* Three French Hens:
French hens were the food of kings in sixteenth century England. Here they represent the expensive gifts brought by the wise men to the newborn Jesus. Three French hens also stood for faith, hope and love.

* Four Calling Birds:
The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

* Five Gold Rings:
The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

* Six Geese A-LayingHere we have the six days in which God created the world. The eggs, from which new life springs, symbolize creation.

* Seven Swans a-Swimming
These represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit outlined by the apostle Paul: prophesy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership and mercy. The swan, a graceful bird, symbolized these virtues.

* Eight Maids A-Milking:
The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

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

* Ten Lords A-Leaping:
The ten lords a-leaping were a reminder of the Ten Commandments.

* Eleven Pipers Piping:
These represent the eleven faithful apostles who followed Jesus to the end and spread his message after his death. While there were twelve apostles, one betrayed Jesus.

* Twelve Drummers Drumming:
This is a symbol for the twelve tenets of the Catholic faith laid out in the prayer, 'The Apostles’ Creed'. The drummers may provide the cadence for reciting this prayer.

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.

~ Yvonne

As someone who likes the thought of secret organisations the above explanation appeals to me. However some will say the carol could have been adapted from something called A New Dial which was known to have been published in 1625. And, by chance, I just happen to have the words!

We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne:

What are they which are by two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true:

What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity:

What are they which are but four
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ's birth, life, death which do declare:

What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign:

What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long:

What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man's soul to crown:

What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven:

What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven's nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears:

What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save:

What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus' sake:

What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God's son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial's done.

And for good measure here are the full words for The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Please join in if you wish and sing along.

On the first day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

Okay, that's enough for today -  glass of mulled wine anyone?

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5 comments:

  1. Wine please, my head is spinning with 12's, heee heee heee

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mine head's spinning, too. I didn't know about the history behind this song!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is so great, thanks for sharing. I'm saving this information to be sure and hand down to the next generation.

    Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'd read this too, many years ago. I think it's great and must have really been utilized in the way stated.
    Thank you for posting and sharing it. I'll definitely copy it for later sharing myself.
    Merry Christmas, Mike.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As I understand it, the meaning of the song has long been controversial. Even Snopes has written an extensive explanation of the controversy/meaning. It's a fun song regardless. And yes, a glass of mulled wine please!

    ReplyDelete