The 12 Days of Christmas is Actually a Catholic Song

As we are in the 12 days until the Epiphany, I thought this was very timely.

Everyone knows this song. But as another writer said, “What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?”

The best part about this mysterious, weird, and yet fun song is that it is Catholic through and through. Where the song originates from tells us why. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. So without even realizing it, many Christians of other denominations are learning about the Catholic faith.

To dive right in, here are the meanings:

The True Love that gives all the gifts is Christ. Our Lord and Creator gives us everything we need.
The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ. A partridge is also a bird that will feign and injury to draw predators away from its young to protect them and lay down its own life for those it loves.

Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament or the Torah which are the holiest books for the Jews.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes that Jesus extolled to us.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

Upon hearing this, I was dumbfounded. A beloved Christmas song that I have sung since childhood and in every context, is actually a Catechism cheat sheet. We should sing this all the time and as loud as you can!

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