The Twelve Days of Christmas
written by Rev Gary Heard

Myer has chosen “The 12 days of Christmas” its theme for this year’s windows. It has done so in a move back to a more traditional expression of Christmas, as opposed to some of the more tenuous links of previous years. However, there few are those who would be able to draw any link between the words of this rather annoying carol and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Reading the gospels, one is hard-pressed to find mention of maids-a-milking, lords-a-leaping, or a pear tree, let alone a partridge.

Not that many years ago, an Irishman released a song which parodied this carol and the experience of a modern family in receipt of the various gifts mentioned in the song. It remains a personal favourite amongst my collection of old 45s. But the story behind the carol is an interesting one.
From the mid-16th century to the early 19th century, Catholics in England were prohibited from practicing their faith. It was a crime punishable under the law. And so "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written as a catechism song to help teach the tenets of Catholic faith. Each gift is symbolic of a key teaching of the Catholic faith, with God Himself being the "true love" mentioned in the song. Those who receive the gifts are those who are baptised into the church.

Jesus is symbolized in the partridge in a pear tree. Apparently a mother partridge will feign injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, reflective of the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. Remember also Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

In the other symbols the following meaning is supplied:
 2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
 3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
 4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
 5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
 6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
 7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
 8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
 9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
 10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
 11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
 12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

Sadly, the brilliance of the carol is lost with its imagery.

December 8, 2002
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