There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. Have you ever wondered about The Twelve Days of Christmas and why it became so popular? What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? Here’s some information that helped me understand it better, I hope it helps you too:

For 271 years, from 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. So when it came time for them to celebrate Christmas, they were not allowed to assemble for the mass. But when they would meet each other on the streets during the twelve days leading up to Christmas day, they needed some way to greet each other a Merry Christmas without raising suspicion. So someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the Catholic church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a Catholic belief, which the children could easily remember. The carol was titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The five golden rings were the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes of Jesus.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

Were these precious people defaming the Word of God? Absolutely not! It was meant to bring them hope and joy during a time of persecution. It certainly worked, for today this Christmas Carol is sung by both Catholics, Protestants, and even non-Christians around the world. So no matter how dark it may be, God’s children will always find a way to communicate their faith and those who persecute them won’t even know it. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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