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What Is The Meaning Behind ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?

We all love singing along to the 12 days of Christmas song especially trying to reach the final verse, where all 12 days are sung at speed and in the correct order, but where did this favourite Christmas song come from and what does each day represent?

Christmas music at piano

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Reputed to be of English origin, the Twelve Days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day (the birth of Christ) and ends on 6th January, the Epiphany. It is thought that this may be a transformation of a song called ‘A New Dial’ which assigns religious meanings to each of the twelve days.

Below we explain what each day’s phrase means:

Partridge in a pear tree: Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.

Two turtle doves: The Old & New Testaments

Three French Hens: Faith, hope, and charity

Four Calling birds: The Four Gospels

Five Golden Rings: The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

Six geese a laying: Six days of creation

Seven Swans a swimming: 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Eight maids a-milking: 8 Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing: Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords a-leaping: 10 Commandments

Eleven pipers piping: The 11 faithful disciples

12 drummers drumming: 12 articles of the Apostles Creed

Christmas music

Other suggestions regarding the origin of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas‘ suggest that it began as a Twelfth Night memory and forfeit the game.

In the 1780 children’s book, Mirth Without Mischief this is how the song was presented: to play the game a leader recited a verse which had then to be repeated by another player. The leader would then add another verse and so on until one of the players made a mistake and had to pay a forfeit of a kiss or a sweetmeat.

Whatever the real meaning of this popular song is, children and adults alike have great fun trying to remember the order of each of the days and sing and giggle along remembering to hit the high note on the 5th Day with Five Go-o-o-ld Rings.

Gold Rings

If you have any other suggestions for the meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas, we’d love to hear from you. You can send us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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