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.

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