The 12 Days of Christmas carol

Monday 25th December 2023

A much-loved part of the Christmas season is the tradition of singing carols and one of the nation’s favourites is undoubtedly The 12 Days of Christmas.

But behind the mental challenge of trying to remember just how many lords were a-leaping or how many drummers were drumming, there is a wonderful link to our Christian faith.

It is thought the carol began life as a poem written by Catholic clerics, using the 12 days as a tool to teach people about some of the central tenets of our faith.

Continue reading to discover more.

Partridge in a Pear Tree 

The very first gift in this carol is the partridge. This partridge in the pear tree represents Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, and the only bird that will die for its young.

Two Turtle Doves 

The two doves are symbols of the Old and New Testaments in the Bible; the foundation text of our faith and the complete story of our redemption.

Three French Hens

These birds represent the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love – as described by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. 

Four Calling Birds

On the fourth day of Christmas, we remember the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Five Golden Rings 

Represented by perhaps everyone’s favourite verse is the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament.

Six Geese A-laying 

The sixth day of Christmas acts as a reminder of the very first story in the Bible: the six days in which God created all things.

Seven Swans A-swimming 

Our swimming swans can be used to teach us about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God. It could also be used to remind us of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders.

Eight Maids A-milking 

The eighth verse of this popular carol is a wonderful way to teach us about the eight Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
  • Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
  • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
  • Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Nine Ladies Dancing

Our nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

10 Lords A-leaping

Perhaps one of the easiest ones to guess, the 10 lords a-leaping are symbolic of the 10 Commandments, which you can find here.

11 Pipers Piping

As we draw near to the end of our carol, the 11 Pipers Piping are a tribute to the 11 faithful apostles, after Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss.

12 Drummers Drumming

Finally, we come to the end of our gifts! The twelfth day of Christmas serves as a reminder of the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

We hope you enjoyed finding out more about the festive favourite and wish you all the best for the rest of the Christmas season.

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Tagged | Catholic Church | Music | Sacraments

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