Twelve Days of Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas are not the 12 days before Christmas, as many people think. For most of the Western Church, the 12 days are from December 25 to January 6 (Epiphany, or the day observed as the day the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the infant Jesus). However, some cultures observe December 26 as the first day of Christmas, and January 6 is held as a special day (in Hispanic culture, it’s known as the Day of the Kings, and gifts are often exchanged on this day).

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is also the title of a popular Christmas carol which has a history steeped in legend and myth. There are also some who believe that the song contains hidden references to the Christian faith . . . symbolism in the song can be interpreted as follows:

A partridge in a pear tree (Jesus Christ, symbolically the mother partridge who clucks over and protects her chick, Luke 13:34)

Two turtledoves (The Old and New Testaments)

Three French hens (Faith, Hope, and Love, 1 Corinthians 13:13)

Four calling birds (The Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)

Five gold(en) rings (The first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or Pentateuch)

Six geese a’laying (The six days of creation)

Seven swans a’swimming (The seven gifts of the Spirit, Romans 12:6-8)

Eight Maids a’milking (The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-10)

Nine ladies dancing (Nine fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22,23)

Ten lords a’leaping (The 10 commandments, Exodus 20:1-17)

Eleven pipers piping (The 11 faithful apostles; Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, is not included)

Twelve drummers drumming (The 12 points in the Apostles’ Creed)

Some believe that the true love mentioned in the song represents God the Father.

While there is nothing substantive to support the history attributed to the religious symbolism of this Christmas carol, neither has it been disproved.


From Christmas A to Z, ©2007 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. (Thomas Nelson) Used by permission.