Daniel, my youngest son, loves to sing. Oftentimes, the lyrics don’t match that of the original song, yet he loves to belt them out nonetheless. Since it is Christmastime, I have been subjected to an abundance of Christmas songs performed by Daniel, many of which are too adorable for words. One holiday song that has always intrigued me (probably because it seems to go on and on and on) is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I was surprised when I looked up its origin and found an (unsubstantiated) link to the Catholic religion.
One theory about this song is that it represents the Twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas itself through January 5th, right before the Feast of the Ephiphany on January 6th, traditionally known as the end of the Christmas season. The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is supposedly a tool to teach young children about the Catholic tenets, at a time when England was going through great religious turmoil and Catholics had to secretly practice their faith. The ‘true love’ mentioned in the song is God and the person receiving the gifts (‘me’) is any person baptized into the faith. This theory has also been disputed by those that call it modern day speculation. Regardless, here is not only the religious intrepretation of the lyrics, but also the intrepretation of my 9 year old son, Daniel:
“On the twelth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming”: Accordinging to the Catholic doctrine, the drummers represent the twelve points of doctrine in the Aposotle’s Creed.
I asked Daniel what he would think if I gave him a gift of twelve drummers drumming. His reply, “Well it would be good if I were ever in a parade.”
“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping”: The eleven pipers represent the eleven remaining faithful Aposotles after Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot.
When I asked Daniel what he would do with eleven pipers piping, he did not hesitate: “I’d throw them away. No one should be smoking!”
“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping”: The ten lords equate to the Ten Commandments of the Bible. Daniel equates them to playing a game, like jump the river.
“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing”: The ladies are the Nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.)
Daniel would like nine ladies dancing if he were at a ball or party and needed people to dance with him.
“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking”: According to the Catholic religion, these are the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10).
I asked Daniel when he would think we would need eight maids a-milking. “Maybe if we lived on a farm and we hired a maid to milk our cows,” came his thoughtful reply.
“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming”: The “swans” are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion.)
Daniel’s take on seven swan’s a-swimming: “I think of walking by the lake and watching a happy family of swans.”
“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying”: These coincide with the six days it took for God to create the Earth.
Daniel couldn’t help but laugh when I mentioned geese; his father had accidentially killed one on the golf course the last time they played. “All I can think, Mom, ” Daniel said, “is Dad taking out SIX geese on the golf course!”
“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings”: These depict the Five Books of the Old Testament in the Bible. This refrain is also Daniel’s favorite because he knows what five golden rings are and he loves to dramatically sing this verse (as most children do!) His five golden rings are:”A ring for when I get married, an anniversary ring, another wedding ring (in the case the first marriage doesn’t work out…), a toe ring and, wow, that’s a lot of rings!”
“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds”: According to the Catholic faith, these would classify the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I asked Daniel about calling birds. “They’re when I go outside and the birds are calling and singing a happy tune.”
“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens”: Otherwise known as Faith, Hope, and Love.
I inquired about the French hens to Daniel. He had a simple explanation: “If you live on a farm in France, the three French hens wake you up in the morning.”
“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtledoves:” The two gifts this day are the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible.
“What’s a turtledove?” Daniel asked. I showed him a picture. “Oh, doves! ” He exclaimed. “You would get them as a gift if you’re a magician so you can use them in your act!”
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree”: The partridge represents Jesus Christ, God’s gift to His people. The partridge in its nest portrays Jesus loving everyone like a mother partridge would love its babies in the nest. It seems that Daniel concurs with this intrepretation: “I think of a bird, singing a song, and caring for the birds in the nest.”
As an adult, some times you don’t think about the meaning behind the lyrics of a song, especially what a song like this Christmas classic signifies. It was a learning experience for me, someone who sang this song at the elementary school Christmas pageant, but never thought to explore the deeper meaning. While I have a richer understanding of what each verse may represent, I can’t help but cherish the interpretation of the song from my son and a child’s point of view.