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» 12 Days of Christmas

How Did I Do It? > Holidays & Celebrations > 12 Days of Christmas
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Nearly everyone has heard the traditional holiday tune, The 12 Days of Christmas. To most listeners it seems to have little meaning. So, let’s take a look at this song’s history and interpretations.

Traditionally the twelve days cover Christmas day until Epiphany (1/6). In some countries every day of the twelve is celebrated with small gifts, while in other areas gifts only arrive on Christmas day.

By far, the era that celebrated Christmastide with panache is the Middel Ages. The parties seemed never-ending, perhaps still bearing remnants of Pagan traditions such as Roman Saturnalia. There were all manner of silliness (such as men dressing as women and vise versa) that afforded a sense of liberation in otherwise socially uptight times.

On the other side of the ocean, in Colonial America, the idea of the 12 Days continued on. Many homes began the season by greening the house (hanging wreaths and garlands). They ended the season by taking down the decorations and finishing up leftovers (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?).

Some believe that the song originated as a way to teach tenants of faith. First, the true love, mentioned in the song, from this perspective, is God. The rest of the verses follow Biblical or dogmatic tie-ins as follows:

Turtle Doves  the two Testaments of the Bible
French Hens  The trinity (or the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity)
Calling Birds  The Four Gospels
Golden Rings  the Pentateuch
Geese-A-Laying  the creation story
Swans-A-Swimming  the seven sacraments
Maids a Milking – the Beatitudes
Ladies Dancing  Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Lords a Leaping  10 Commandments
Piper?s Piping  the faithful apostles
Drummers Drumming  the specific points to the Apostle?s Creed

More research shows, however, that while meaningful, this idea is an urban legend. For one thing, limiting such a teaching to one part of the year makes little sense. There’s also no obvious relationship that can be drawn between the verses gifts and the Christian interpretation without really stretching it. In fact the song was a kind of memory game where people who couldn’t remember the next line lost. until one was left standing, having originally appeared in a late 1700s children’s book

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