On the Twelfth Day of Christmas …

Today is the “twelfth day of Christmas,” the twelfth day after December 25. In the calendar of the Christian church, tomorrow is Epiphany.

I’ve always enjoyed the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I liked trying to remember all the different gifts. I liked the order and precision of it as a “counting” song. And all those birds!

Anyway, I only very recently learned the actual story of the song and thought today would be a good day to pass it along. This history was sent to me in an E-mail by a friend in Kansas; I’m not sure who to give credit to for it, but the information is certainly interesting.

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 their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

The two turtledoves were the Old and New Testaments

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

The seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes.

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

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.

That’s the “authorized” version, and it made me think; What if we took the song literally? I did a little imagining on this subject, and here’s what I discovered.

Over the full twelve days, I would have gotten twelve partridges in pear trees. That’s an orchard! So I’d have to assume that I now had a little land. The partridges could be hunted for food, and the fruit from the trees makes good eating, too. There’d be more than enough for me, my true love (the giver of all these fascinating gifts), and anyone else.

I got twenty-two turtledoves. I can now hire some of them out for weddings, keep some as breeding stock, and, since they’re part of the pigeon family, perhaps I can teach a few to carry messages.

Thirty French hens can produce quite an egg supply. I’d have to borrow a rooster from somewhere, but once a few eggs hatched, I could have a perpetual source of chicken soup, stew, and anything else I might want. (Croquettes, anyone?)

I’m not quite sure what to do with thirty-six calling birds. I don’t know exactly what a “calling bird” is. But if it’s a songbird of any kind, this could be a very enjoyable gift.

Ah, forty golden rings! These always come in handy for buying French hen and turtledove food, not to mention building a house for my true love and me.

Forty-two geese a-laying? Oh, goodness, more eggs, and they’re so big! But geese also give down for making pillows and feather dusters (more about these in a moment).

Forty-two swans a-swimming are certainly beautiful to look at, and now I’ve got a pond to go with my pear orchard.

If I got forty maids a-milking, I got both the “milkers” and the “milkees,” right? Along with the barn and pastures for these animals. My true love, knowing my preferences, made sure to get me goats, not cows, since I grew up with goats and love them above all other milking animals (although I like the sound of cows mooing!). Anyway, since I like goats, I think I’ll put those “maids” to work so I can do the milking myself. And, since those golden rings have made us quite a nice house and we have no shortage of feather dusters, the “maids” are now doing housecleaning. Would you like to hire one? My house isn’t big enough or dirty enough to keep all forty busy all the time!

With thirty-six ladies dancing, I’ve now got a ballet company. Well, ballet and anything else they might decide to dance.

I could use my thirty lords a-leaping in the ballet company, but it might be more fun and profitable to field them as a major-league baseball team. Sure, football pays a lot better, but injuries are too common, the season is too short. Hockey is nice, but there’s too much fighting, and I don’t want to freeze my swan pond for practices or games. Basketball has lots of leaping, but the baseball season is longer and the sport is more forgiving if the lords get old or aren’t terrific all-around athletes. So baseball it is. I like the sound of New York Leaping Lords, anyway.

Are my twenty-two pipers piping musicians or plumbers? Even if half play music and the other half fix leaks, I’ve now got the “orchestra” for my ladies dancing. They’re also great playing for weddings, funerals, parades, and in marching-band competitions.

And finally, twelve drummers drumming. They can join the pipers in all their pursuits.

Cluck cluck … honk honk … tweet tweet … bleat bleat … “Now ladies, kick together! Five, six, seven, eight” … (If I hear “Amazing Grace” played badly by beginning bagpipers one more time … It’s pretty noisy hear, so I think my true love and I are going to go somewhere in the mountains for our honeymoon.

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2 Comments on “On the Twelfth Day of Christmas …”

  1. your true love Says:

    uhm…
    I hope you weren’t expecting all those gifts for real.

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Hi, Love,

    No. I have enough to do being responsible for me (one maid) and Kiefer and Ecko (two lords currenty a-sleeping behind my chair on the floor). The goats would be cool, but when the time comes for me to return to that passion of mine, I’ll do that on my own, too. Thanks for asking, though!


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