The Twelve Days of Christmas Decoded

An Underground Catechism ~

You're all familiar with the Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" I think. To most it's a delightful nonsense rhyme set to music. But it had a quite serious purpose when it was written. It is a good deal more than just a repetitious melody with pretty phrases and a list of unique gifts. 


Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from ANY practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime to BE a Catholic.  "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith.  It was used as a memory aid, when to be caught with anything "in writing",  indicating adherence to the Catholic faith, could be risking one's very life!  Church history includes many British Catholic martyrs for the faith during this era. 

The song's gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. 

"On the First day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A Partridge in a Pear Tree"                 The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury (since he rose from the dead) to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so."     This opening symbolic reference  bewails the current persecution, and the desire to protect the faithful and tutor the "nestlings" - christian children.

The other symbols mean the following: 

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", 

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 in P.S. below. 

-Paraphrased from -Fr. Hal Stockert 12/17/95 ( his version had to be cleaned up because his report of the persecutions  digressed into boyish delight in describing methods of torture....not really appropriate or inspiring. But no other changes made.) 


P.S. It has come to our attention that this tale is made up of both fact and fiction. But may it be  that this tale give  courage, and determination to use any creative means at one's disposal to keep one's faith alive.    Original resource: Copyright © 1987-2003 Catholic Information Network (CIN) - Updated: 12-26-03 





P.S.  RE: On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming.

The twelve drummers represent the twelve precepts of the Faith presented in the Apostle's Creed. The translation of the Creed given in the Catechism is given below.

  1. I believe in God, the father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.  
  3. Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary 
  4. suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. 
  5. He descended into hell.
  6. On the third day he rose again from the dead
  7. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  
  8. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 
  9. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints
  10. the forgiveness of sins
  11. the resurrection of the body, and 
  12. life everlasting. Amen.