The origins of the twelve days of Christmas are rooted in European Catholic traditions. The first of the twelve days is Christmas Day and ends on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5th).
The Catholic liturgical calendar was adjusted so that the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is celebrated on the first Sunday of the year. The Feast of the Epiphany now falls on the second Sunday of the year.
No one ever said Catholic traditions and calendaring is simple. The changes, however, do not prevent anyone – or any religious affiliation – from singing The Twelve Days of Christmas every year.
Pam is a writer (among other things) and a champion inspirer who posts regularly on her blog, Destress with Joy. She recently discovered an old email written by her mother. In it, her mother answered her questions about The 12 Days of Christmas:
Many years ago, Roman Catholics were not permitted to openly practice their faith in England. Someone composed this carol for young Catholics. There was a literal interpretation of the song; but there were also hidden meanings intended to be shared by members of the church. Every element in the carol represents religious teachings and Biblical verses children could remember.
The partridge in a pear tree represented Jesus Christ.
Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testament.
Three French hens stood for Faith, Hope and Love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Four calling birds referred to the authors of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
Six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3).
Seven swans a-swimming represented the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.
Eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit – Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).
Eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples (Judas nor his replacement, Matthias, were included among the pipers).
Twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostle’s Creed.
“So, there is your history lesson for today!” adds Pam. “This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening.”
Pam’s mother is no longer with her, but this email is a reminder that traditions tell a story about our faith and love is something that last forever. Our stories are a torch that connect the past with the present.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and philosopher, said, “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
As we prepare to celebrate a New Year, we can become bogged down by the weight of darkness or embrace optimism and hope. I choose to see light. I choose to see light in others. I choose to be light for those who are afraid of the dark.
When we choose to be light – as individuals and as a global community – we have the power to change the world.
How are you a light to the world?
Are you (or someone you love) struggling to get into the holiday mood? Where Are You, Christmas? may be just the lift you need.
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