The Meaning Of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”

Photo RL Pieterse


“The Twelve Days Of Christmas” has been referred to as a folk song, a Christmas carol or a nursery rhyme. The words speak of the gifts that were given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. The twelve days are the days from Christmas day until the beginning of Epiphany which is 6th January.

Some believe that the song may be anecdotal or legendary. But there isn’t any evidence of this. I like the theory that is is a song from the 16th century which was written to teach the basics of faith to young people. Again, there doesn’t seem to be any real proof of this.

This theory is based on the assumption that religious meaning has been given to each of the gifts which makes the words more cryptical than nonsensical.  This was necessary as, when the song was written, Catholicism was criminalised in England and this was a way of teaching the youth whilst managing to hide what was being taught.

Photo RL Pieterse

The Lyrics And Meaning

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..

A Partridge in a Pear Tree,”

The Partridge represents Jesus Christ whose birthday we celebrate on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas.

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..

2 Turtle Doves,”

The Two Turtle Doves represent the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible.

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..

3 French Hens,”

The French Hens signify the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

Photo RL Pieterse

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

4 Calling Birds,”

Here the reference is to the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – these Gospels proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s presence in the world.

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

5 Golden Rings,”

The first Five Books of the Bible are the Golden Rings. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They record the sins of humanity and God’s response.

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

6 Geese-a-Laying,”

The Six Geese represent the Six Days which God took to create the world.

Photo RL Pieterse

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

7 Swans-a-Swimming,”

The Swans are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which are prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and compassion.

“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

8 Maids-a-Milking,’

The Eight Maids are the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful , the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

9 Ladies Dancing,”

These are the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

Photo RL Pieterse

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

10 Lords-a-Leaping,”

These are the Ten Commandants i.e. you shall have no other gods before me, do not make any idols, do not take God’s name in vain, keep the Sabbath day holy, honor your father and mother, do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness and do not covet.

“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

11 Pipers Piping,”

The Eleven Pipers are the loyal Apostles, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (Alphaeus), Simon (Zealot), Judas (James). Of course, Judas Iscariot has been excluded.

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..

12 Drummers Drumming,”

These are the doctrines of the Apostle’s Creed which are:

  1. I believe in God,
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ,
  3. I believe Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary,
  4. He suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, died and was buried,
  5. On the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father,
  6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead,
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  8. The holy Catholic Church,
  9. The communion of saints,
  10. The forgiveness of sins,
  11. The resurrection of the body,
  12. And life everlasting.

The hidden meaning in the lyrics of this lovely song is the complete embodiment of the religious meaning of Christmas.

Hope your Christmas is both peaceful and happy.

The Song

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