According to the Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals by Ann Ball, the famous song about the 12 Days of Christmas was written in England as a catechism song for young Catholics in the days when it was illegal to practice, or teach the Catholic Faith. It contains hidden meanings intended to help children remember lessons of faith. Instead of referring to an earthly suitor, the “true love” mentioned in the song really refers to God. The “me”, who receives the presents, is symbolic of every baptized person.
There appears to be no conclusive historical evidence to prove this origin of the song. Nevertheless, the traditional association between the gifts mentioned in the song, and various spiritual gifts, is a good way to turn a seemingly secular Christmas carol into a valuable catechetical tool.
Partridge in a pear tree Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that
feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.
Two turtle doves Old Testament and New Testament
Three French Hens Faith, hope, 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 The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight maids a-milking The Eight Beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten Lords a-leaping The Ten Commandments
Eleven pipers piping The Eleven faithful disciples
Twelve drummers drumming The Twelve articles of the Apostle’s Creed
Have a very merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.