From the ultimate Christmas song of “Jingle Bells,” we move on to yet another timeless classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Surviving over three centuries, this Christmas carol probably has seen the most variations among all the songs out there. Let us explore the meaning of “Twelve Days of Christmas” song.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was first published in England in 1780, although its roots seem to run further back. However, the first tangible evidence of its existence is available from the above year. Initially, these verses were meant to be a chant without music. Over the years, the song evolved into a Christmas carol and one of the most widely reproduced tracks. The most famous lyrics variation of all is by English composer Frederic Austin from 1909.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song. What is said in the previous verse is built into the verse that follows. Hence, the latter verses get longer and longer, absorbing content from the earlier verses. The theme of the song is based around gifts received by a girl from her “lover” on the ’12 days of Christmas’ period. Listen to the track below.
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
In Christian belief, ‘the twelve days of Christmas,’ is a festive season spanning from December 25th to January 5th each year.
There are 12 verses on this song, each describing a different gift given by her lover to her on each day of the 12-day period. The gift increase in quantity parallel to the number of days that have eloped. The gifts received on each day of this period are listed below.
- the first day of Christmas – A partridge in a pear tree
- the second day of Christmas – A partridge in a pear tree and Two turtle doves
- the third day of Christmas – A partridge in a pear tree, Two turtle doves and Three French hens
- the fourth day of Christmas – A partridge in a pear tree, Two turtle doves, Three French hens and Four calling birds
- the fifth day of Christmas – all of the above and Five gold rings
- the sixth day of Christmas – all of the above and Six geese a-laying
- the seventh day of Christmas – all of the above and Seven swans a-swimming
- the eighth days of Christmas – all of the above and Eight maids a-milking
- the ninth day of Christmas – all of the above and Nine ladies dancing
- the tenth day of Christmas – all of the above and Ten lords a-leaping
- the eleventh day of Christmas – all of the above and Eleven pipers piping
- the twelfth day of Christmas – all of the above and Twelve drummers drumming
The different variations of the song included different types of birds on different types of trees, “boys singing,’ ‘bulls roaring,’ ‘ships a-sailing,’ ‘bells ringing,’ ‘ladies spinning’ and so on.
Biblical Meanings of the Twelve Gifts
Some alleged/suggested meanings behind the significance of the each number in Christianity is listed below;
- A partridge in a pear tree – the partridge symbolizes Jesus Christ, the son of God
- Two turtle doves – represents the Old and New Testaments
- Three French hens – represents the three Theological values; Peace, Hope and Charity
- Four calling birds – symbolizes the four evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- Five gold rings – meaning shrouded in mystery; could be a reference to 5 great mysteries; Father, Son, Spirit, Creation and Redemption
- Six geese a-laying – 6 days of creation by God
- Seven swans a-swimming – represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord
- Eight maids a-milking – refers to the 8 beatitudes
- Nine ladies dancing – represents the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit; Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control
- Ten lords a-leaping – refers to the ten commandments
- Eleven pipers piping – represents Jesus’ eleven faithful apostles
- Twelve drummers drumming – Refers to the twelve points of the Apostle’s creed
Not such a simple carol afterall?
Let us hear what you think about “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and its meaning in the comments below.