Exploring the history of the 12 Days of Christmas

It was 2 in the morning; I was awake thinking about my book, the 2020 election, why my oven only works every other day, doggy daycare for Puppy Polar, what it would take to own a red panda, and if I could grow my own coffee beans. You know – standard 2 a.m. thoughts. So, I started signing in my head. ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave me…a partridge in a pear tree.’ Why is the partridge in a pear tree? Have I ever seen a pear tree? I don’t think I have. Where do they grow? What is a partridge? I know that it is a bird because that is the only way that it would get into the pear tree. But is it a little white bird? I have little white birds on my Christmas tree. I do need to get tested!

Now it is 3 a.m. and I am wondering if the partridge in the pear tree could have a place in my book and why the hens were French hens and not some other type of hens. Do French hens lay more eggs? I think French hens would be snooty. They would only want the fancy hen food and sleeping on day-old newspapers instead of old hay.

I finally fell back to sleep around 3:30 a.m. and woke up wondering why this song even exists and who was the blasted person who wrote it. He/She/They owe me two and half hours of my life that I will never get back.

6:00 a.m. and I am waking up Google, we got some work to do! Do you know the amount of work that went into researching this song before I even attempting to dive into its roots? It has consumed people! There are doctorates written on this song! Financial guru’s have spent their holiday seasons for years adding up this song’s price, factoring in inflation. Kings and Queens have based their holiday celebrations around the 12 days of presents. The Catholic Church has used it to tell the story of Jesus’s birth. This song is no joke.

I have to tell you- it did not start as a ‘song’ per se. The earliest known English version in print is dated back to 1780- and it was a children’s book entitled ‘Mirth without Mischief.’ Participants in the game were required to repeat back poems, and if they made a mistake, a punishment of some sort was enacted- like a kiss. Get this- there is currently a copy of 1st Edition, prime condition, Mirth Without Mischief that contains the Twelve Days of Christmas on sale in Heritage Actions for $13,812.00. But according to an article that I read today- a first edition sold for $23,750.00 at Sotheby’s auction in 2014. If you are on a budget like me- you can go to Amazon and find a lovely hardcover reproduction by Laurel Long for only $13.44.

Let’s talk more about money. The total pricing for this Christmas package went down in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. You can buy this experience for only $105,561.80 (if you bought the total number of gifts listed, which would be a little over 364 gifts) because the following are not available for live performances- 9 Ladies Dancing, 10 Lords-A-Leaping, 11 Pipers Piping, and 12 Drummers Drumming. If you just bought one of each- it is a whole lot less expensive, only about $40,000 in 2019 pricing.

Interestingly, it was Good House Keeping that sparked my interest with their article debunking that the song contained a secret code about Christianity. Wait! What???? Of course, I had to finish the video on knitting for beginners that the website offered before doing more research.

Off to the National Catholic Register website, because, let’s face it- if you want the real answers on religion and secretly coded songs- the Pope would have the answer. I learned that it is NOT the 12 days until Christmas- it is the 12 days after Christmas to Epiphany. I didn’t know what Epiphany was; hell, I don’t even know how to pronounce the word. According to Britannica, it is the Three Kings’ Day; a festival started in the Eastern Church as a commemoration of Jesus’s birth.

354AD in Rome, the birthday was celebrated on 25 December, but then later in the 4th century, the Church begins to celebrate it on 6 January. Now in the Western Church- this celebration commemorates the Magi’s visit (Wise Men, not Kings) to the baby Jesus. In the East, though, it marks the baptism of Jesus and the revelations that the incarnated Christ was both God and man.

First question- why does the south not have a church? Strangely, the North, East, and West are represented, but not a southern church.

Second question- are we celebrating his birth, the arrival of the Three Kings (who were not kings), or the baptism? And why do children get presents all 12 days in their shoes? So many questions, not enough time for answers in this blog.

It has been said that the song was secret teachings of the Catholic faith through a song because during the reigns of Elizabeth I and George IV- the Catholics were suffering. This song was a way for the Catholics to still worship without being burnt at the stake, tortured, cast out of England, or ending up in the Tower of London, or arrested. It seems like the saying ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ did not exist at that time. I even found an article in the Catholic News Agency that alludes to this theory:

The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” is an English Christmas carol. 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 the Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

Someone needs to get ahold of the Church, because there is a disagreement! Stephanie Mann, a fellow blogger and author on all things Catholic breaks it down for us on how it can not be a secret meaning. Both the Catholics and Anglicans agree on its intentions in her article in the National Catholic Register.

1. The “True Love” one hears in the song is not a smitten boy or girlfriend. It represents Jesus Christ because ‘true love’ was born on Christmas Day. The partridge in the pear tree also represents Him because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

2. The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

3. The three French hens stood for faith, hope and love. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

4. The four calling [or colly] birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

5. The five golden rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

6. The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

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

8. The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes [Catholics and Anglicans agree that there are eight beatitudes in the Gospel According to St. Matthew]

9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continence [Chastity].

10. The 10 lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

11. The 11 pipers piping stood for the 11 faithful Apostles. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]

12. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]Faith of Our Fathers.

Wait, okay. It’s not a secret song for a secret religion that religious followers sang in secret. (Say that fast five times) But it was a spiritual song? Not a song of tongue twisters sung by children in hopes of a small reward or kiss?

Not according to the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes! They say that the gifts mention:

have significance as representing the food or sport for each month of the year. Importance [certainly has] long been attached to the Twelve Days, when, for instance, the weather on each day was carefully observed to see what it would be in the corresponding month of the coming year.

So it was a weather guide? If it was cold on Day 5, would it be cold in May? If it rained on the 9th day, would rain ruin the harvest of September? Talk about some pressure in the first couple of weeks of the year. Who the hell bases their year off of winter weather? If it is anything like Alaskan weather- it is cold and cloudy all year. Crap, wait! It IS cold and overcast all year!

The moral of the story is- it is a rhyme that is has been around since the 18th century, a song at Christmas time, with ties to the underground Catholic Church, seeped in the mysteries of weathermen predictions, and can not be purchased during COIVD restrictions. There you have it- the 12 Days of AFTER Christmas…I think. May it be before? I don’t know- let me ask the weatherman.

As always friends, I invite you to do more research on your own. This is a fun topic that takes you from religion to financials to farming in 3.2 seconds. I am including the links I used for my research below and added some books that you might like to look up.

And remember….Be Great at something you are Good at!


The PNC Christmas Price Index | PNCMirth Without Mischief. Containing The Twelve Days of Christmas; | Lot #45040 | Heritage Auctions (ha.com)Epiphany | Definition, Holiday, Origin, & Observances | BritannicaAre the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ a Secret Catholic Code?| National Catholic Register (ncregister.com)The History of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ :: Catholic News Agency’12 Days of Christmas’ Meaning — Lyrics of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ Song Explained (goodhousekeeping.com)

Celebrating The 12 Days of Christmas by Chris Marchand and Blair E. Clark

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins

The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler

What are your thoughts?

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