The Twelve Days of Christmas

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) ©WikiC

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) ©WikiC

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by “my true love” on one of the twelve days of Christmas. (I took a few liberties with the photos)

A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth. (Proverbs 17:8 KJV)

In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him. (Ecclesiastes 7:14 KJV)

The Twelve Days of Christmas (12 Days of Christmas) 

Music From The Twelve Days of Christmas Website

12 Days of Christmas – Manheim Steamroller arrangement

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) by Nikhil

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) by Nikhil

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Faverolles - French Hen and Cock - ©WikiC

Faverolles - French Hen and Cock - ©WikiC

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) by Ian

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) by Ian

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Gold-ringed Tanager (Bangsia aureocincta) Endangered Juvenile ©BirdPhotos.com

Gold-ringed Tanager (Bangsia aureocincta) Endangered Juvenile ©BirdPhotos.com

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five golden rings,
Four (Culley) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) at nest ©USFWS

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) at nest ©USFWS

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Swans at BokTower

Swans at Bok Tower by Dan

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) - One Greater Flamingo-chick in Zoo Basel is fed on crop milk.

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) - chick in Zoo Basel is fed on crop milk.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Lady Amherst's Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) ©GNU

Lady Amherst's Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) ©GNU

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Lord Derby's Parakeet (Psittacula derbiana) by Wilhelma Zoo Stuttgart ©WikiC

Lord Derby's Parakeet (Psittacula derbiana) by Wilhelma Zoo Stuttgart ©WikiC

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) by Ray

Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) by Ray

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four (Cully) calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree!

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Below is some of the information about how the song came about and some of the different interpretations of it. I especially like the idea that the 12 days represent different aspects of Christianity. The fact that it was a code is not verifiable, does not diminish its relationship to twelve things.  I took a few liberties with the photos, but was trying to use birds for the days. Pushed a few of them, but trust you enjoy my efforts.

“Meaning

The lyrics of The Twelve Days of Christmas may have no meaning at all. Its meaning, if it has any, has yet to be satisfactorily explained.

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, “Suggestions have been made that the gifts have significance, as representing the food or sport for each month of the year. Importance [certainly has] long been attached to the Twelve Days, when, for instance, the weather on each day was carefully observed to see what it would be in the corresponding month of the coming year. Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate origin of the chant, it seems probable [that] the lines that survive today both in England and France are merely an irreligious travesty.”

A bit of modern folklore claims that the song’s lyrics were written as a “catechism song” to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England (1558 until 1829). There is no primary evidence supporting this claim, and no evidence that the claim is historical, or “anything but a fanciful modern day speculation.” The theory is of relatively recent origin. It was first suggested by Canadian English teacher and hymnologist Hugh D. McKellar in a short article, “How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas,” published in 1979. In a later article published in the music journal The Hymn, he reiterates that the associations are his. The idea was further popularized by a Catholic priest, Fr. Hal Stockert, in an article he wrote in 1982 and posted online in 1995.

Variations in lyrics provide further evidence against the “catechism song” origin. For example, the four Gospels are often described as the “four calling birds,” when in fact the phrase “calling birds” is a modern (probably 20th century) phonetic misunderstanding of “colly birds” (blackbirds).

Regardless of the origin of this idea, a number of Christians give the following meanings to the gifts:

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a Catechism Song
Gift Interpretation
A partridge in a pear tree Jesus
Two turtle doves The Old and New Testaments
Three French hens The three kings bearing gifts
Four calling [sic] birds The four Gospels
Five gold rings The Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament
Six geese a-laying The six days of Creation
Seven swans a-swimming Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight maids a-milking The eight Beatitudes
Nine ladies dancing Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten lords a-leaping The Ten Commandments
Eleven pipers piping The eleven faithful Apostles
Twelve drummers drumming The twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed


(From The Twelve Days of Christmas – Wikipedia)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23 KJV)

Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. (2 Corinthians 9:15 KJV)

See Also:
Twelve Days of Christmas – Notes on  the Festival and the Carol for quite a bit of history on the song and other versions.

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