Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"The 12 Days of Christmas" Debunked

As a Catholic girl, I have heard the following explanation of the origins of "The 12 Days of Christmas". There are other origins also, none of which can be proven; I like to believe this one as it places Catholics in a positive light, but it is really not based in reality at all.

I get an email from a fellow Catholic (and a different one at that) probably two or three times over Christmas. But after reading what Snopes has to say on the subject, it seems a bit more like those Arab friends needing to get money out of the country.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith. In short, it was a coded-message, a memory aid. Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, young Catholics could sing the song without fear of imprisonment. The authorities would not know that it was a religious song.

"The 12 Days of Christmas" is in a sense an allegory. Each of the items in the song represents something significant to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The hidden meaning of each gift was designed to help Catholic children learn their faith. The better acquainted one is with the Bible, the more these interpretations have significance.

The song goes, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…"

The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor, but it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. i.e. the Church.

1st Day: The partridge in a pear tree is Christ Jesus upon the Cross. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge because she would feign injury to decoy a predator away from her nestlings. She was even willing to die for them. The tree is the symbol of the fall of the human race through the sin of Adam and Eve. It is also the symbol of its redemption by Jesus Christ on the tree of the Cross.
2nd Day: The "two turtle doves" refers to the Old and New Testaments.
3rd Day: The "three French hens" stand for faith, hope and love—the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (1 Corinthians 13).
4th Day: The "four calling birds" refers to the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.
5th Day: The "five golden rings" represents the first five books of the Bible, also called the Jewish Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
6th Day: The "six geese a-laying" is the six days of creation.
7th Day: The "seven swans a-swimming" refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
8th Day: The "eight maids a milking " reminded children of the eight beatitudes listed in the Sermon on the Mount.
9th Day: The "nine ladies dancing" were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
10th Day: The "ten lords a-leaping" represents the Ten Commandments
11th Day: The "eleven pipers piping" refers to the eleven faithful apostles.
12th Day: The ‘twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of belief expressed in the Apostles’ Creed: belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, made man, crucified, died and arose on the third day, that he sits at the right hand of the father and will come again, the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

So the next time you hear "the Twelve Days of Christmas" consider how this otherwise non-religious sounding song had its origins in keeping alive the teaching of the Catholic faith.


Grant said...

Either way, I still prefer Ozzy.

"I don't want to change the world
I don't want the world to change me"

mal said...

Gee, and to think I am married to a Catholic......I think the OH has been holding out on me

Ian Lidster said...

As a non-Catholic I found this really interesting, Leesa. I had never seen it before. Cool.

Timothy said...

Its a great myth and always akes the rounds this time of year. Too bad it isn't ntirely true.


QUASAR9 said...

Great Story Leesa
whether true or not
still a great way to menorise the cathechism
even if one is not quite sure what it all means

Lately, the only problem I have with the whole thing, is how it is still all pretty much random how it occurrs

Whether Love, Luck or suffering,

ok ok
some things are more predetermined
like genetically inherited disease or illness (and assured death)

but as for the rest
what control do we have over anything
the love of our life walks into our life totally at random, and walks out equally swiftly - totally non-plussed

ok ok so she may not have been the love of my life, but she was the one I've loved (and love) most
whereas to her I was just one more she snared into her spider's web
chewed me up and spat be back out
and now she's moved onto the next pray

What does God, or any god
have to say about it all
Will the good book console me?
will good music console me?
Will rich food & good wine console me?

Me thinks the only thing that will console me is another love - and I mean of the earthly sort - of the flesh.

QUASAR9 said...

Well Jesus was pretty human

changing water into wine? well who wouldn't if they could. Everybody likes to provide good wine at a party, and every host wants their guests to be merry. If all else fails resort to home-brew

Losing your temper with money lenders? Well everyone likes money for nothing, but who likes to pay interest (especially high interest)

But would Jesus be like Jim Morrison or any other pop idol or rock'n'roll star - in other words get laid as often as he could ...
well there is always the story of Jesus and the prostitute

But hell in biblical terms, I guess most if not all women in the 21st century are prostitutes

After all our mothers may come from a generation where our dad is the only man they've ever been to bed with ...
but I think that is more a rarety between women of your and mine generation

at least in the so called 'civilized' world or economically advanced first world. Not withstanding that rape and/or early widowhood is still very much commonhood in the troubled spots of the so called third world too.

But what would Jesus do?
Turning the other cheek
is and always been the hardest thing to do

Not following the desires of the flesh is and always has been the hardest thing to do

Aaaah Love - that thorny bush
the more intense the love, the more intense the hurt when it is lost. The more intense the pleasure the deeper the pain when the 'drug' is removed.

But inner stillness?
who can achieve that? Buddha?

Better to have loved and die, than never to have loved at all
Better to live and die, than never to have lived at all

And when there's nothing left to fight for, nothing left to die for
No belief or desire to sacrifice oneself for ...
then what is there left to live for

There is only one thing for sure - Death.
And anything we may imagine today we cannot live without, we can be sure one day we'll have to do without. Letting go can be so hard, yet even LOVE & LIFE or LOVE of LIFE we must one day let go of

btsea said...

Who really knows? I think most would agree the lyrics are kind of odd. Punishment for crimes back then could include being hung, drawn, and quartered...

400 years from now they will probably still be arguing about the lyrics of Puff the Magic Dragon...or maybe there will be The Definitive Snopes Article on it by that time

damn_yankee84 said...

A long time ago, in a galaxy, er, state, far away (from where I am now), a bunch of new Army Soldiers created their own marching cadence titled the 12 Days of Basic.

I don't recall all of the lyrics but here is what I do remember:

1 Flu Shot
2 Dog Tags
3 minutes to eat
4 Combat Boots
5 brown t-shirts
6 pairs of socks

....now my memory fails me. It was 22+ years ago....