On almost a daily basis I get inspiring and sometimes humorous e-mails from my old San Antonio buddy, Don Smith.
Somewhere Don has come up with the history of a song that that I never understood as being a Christmas carol. His research says “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is really a Christmas carol with a hidden meaning: a comfort for persecuted Roman Catholics in old merry old England.
So I did a little checking of my own. When Henry VIII broke with the Romans and established the Anglican Church, there were times when the Catholics were persecuted. This song made it possible for Catholics to rejoice by reading hidden message. Hence the Anglicans would not persecute them.
(There was not that much difference in the two faiths. Henry just wanted a divorce and the Pope refused. Result: Anglicans, the Church of England and a much-divorced king.)
Other histories describe the song as a type of memory game played by children. A leader recited the first verse, the next child recited the second verse, and so on until someone missed a verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game.
Either way, it is a delightful ditty. Here is what the 12 Days of Christmas represent to those who enjoyed the spiritual theme.
1. The partridge in a pear tree was the One God, revealed in Jesus Christ.
2. Two turtle doves represented the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
4. The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
5. The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books.
6. The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
7. Seven swans a swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy.
8. The eight maids a milking were the eight beatitudes (there are nine beatitudes in my Bible. See Matthew 5:3-12).
9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
10. The ten lords a leaping were the Ten Commandments.
11. The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
12. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” starts with Christmas Day and ends with the eve of Epiphany on January 5th. The song dates back to English origins in the sixteenth century although the music is reputed to be French.
Like many songs today there are different interpretations. As for me and my house, this carol will henceforth be a reminder of higher thoughts containing deeper meanings. Enjoy the tune and message. Just wish there were more songs with deeper meanings for rest of the year.
Britt Towery, a retired Southern Baptist missionary, writes for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.