For most people who celebrate Christmas, remember the 12 Days of Christmas and the partridge in a pear tree. But does anyone really know when the first day of Christmas begins and when the last day ends?
As the song indicates, it’s a countdown from the first day of Christmas with 2 Turtle Doves to the last day with 12 Drummers Drumming. In Western Christianity, Christmas actually begins on December 25th but doesn’t end until January 5th.
According to ritual, the 12 days of Christmas signifies the period of time between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany which is the day the Magi visited baby Jesus in the manger, bearing gifts.
Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions happening on January 6th and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26, this is also known as the Twelfth Night.
As for the song, it’s believed to have originated in France and the first printed copy appeared in England in1780.
Some rumors have it that it was a coded guide for Catholics to study their faith in secret during the 16th-century in England when it was considered illegal to practice Catholicism.
The passage “True Love” does not refer to a human being, but to God. The “Me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is of the Christian Faith.
Each of the 12 days represents an aspect of the Christian Faith which was considered important for children to learn.
Here are the Days:
In making sense of the song, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that listed each object in the song represents the Christian belief:
- 2 Turtle Doves represents the Old and New Testaments
- 3 French Horns represents Faith, Hope, and Charity, the Theological Virtues.
- 4 Calling Birds represents the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists.
- 5 Golden Rings represents the First Five Books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, which refers to man’s fall from grace.
- 6 Geese A-Laying represents the six days of the creation.
- 7 Swans A-Swimming represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments.
- 8 Maids A-Milking represents the eight beatitudes.
- 9 Ladies Dancing represents the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit.
- 10 Lords A-Leaping represents the Ten Commandments.
- 11 Pipers Piping represents the eleven faithful apostles.
- 12 Drummers Drumming represents the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.
There are no actual facts about the history of the song’s hidden messages even though the arguments are quite compelling. Looking back, it’s highly likely that the so-called code was invented at some point in time.
All said and done, most people celebrating Christmas know the 12 Days Of Christmas inside and out!