January 2 ,2013: The Twelve Days of Christmas

~ by Mary Galvano

Happy Christmas! Christmas day is just the start of the celebration of the birth of Christ. We still have some celebrating to do up until the Feast of Epiphany.

In the old days Christmas decorating went up on Christmas Eve, not before, and gift giving started on Christmas Day and lasted for twelve days. Hence the “twelve days of Christmas.” I am sure there are many who do know the meaning behind the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”., but for those of you who do not know, this silly song actually has a serious purpose and there is more to it than one may think. It is a song of faith, mystery, and courage.

During sixteenth century England, a time of religious persecution, “ The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written as kind of a secret catechism that Catholics could sing in public without being arrested. The Church of England was the legal religion of the time and Catholics, including children, could be put to death for practicing the faith. The carol served as a learning or memory aid to Christian facts.  There can be two meanings to the carol, the surface meaning or the hidden meaning to which each verse has a code word for a religious truth. Each gift represented a major doctrine of the Catholic faith.

  1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus with His courage and devotion of dying for us. (Luke 13:34 and Matthew 23:34) Also, a mother partridge will lure away predators from her chicks, even sacrificing her own life for them. The tree symbolizes the cross.
  2. Two Turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments. Doves are truth and peace.
  3. Three French Hens are the expensive gifts of the wise men: gold, frankincense and myrrh. French hens were, also, the food of kings in sixteenth century England. Another meaning behind the Three French Hens is faith, hope and love.
  4. Four Calling Birds are the four Gospels.
  5. Five Gold Rings recall the Hebrew Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament known as the Law of Moses.
  6. Six Geese A-Laying stands for the six days of creation. Eggs symbolize new life.
  7. Seven Swans A-Swimming stands for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
  8. Eight Maids A-Milking is the eight Beatitudes. Being a milkmaid was one of the lowest jobs in sixteenth century England. Jesus came to save the poor and the humble.
  9. Nine Ladies Dancing represents the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
  10. Ten Lords A-Leaping is the Ten Commandments.
  11. Eleven Pipers Piping represents the eleven faithful apostles spreading Christ’s teaching after His death.
  12. Twelve Drummers Drumming symbolizes the twelve points of Catholic doctrine laid out in “The Apostle Creed”. The drummers may provide the cadence for reciting the creed.

The “true love” in the carol refers to God Himself and the “me” receiving the gifts is every Christian.

The next time you hear or sing this “silly” song at Christmas-time, remember those who sacrificed their lives for our faith and the true meaning behind the song. As Catholics it is a true triumph over evil, a song of courage. It helped keep the truth of the Catholic Church alive in a time when it seemed impossible. It is, also, a reminder that our church has dwelt with hard time before but it keeps on going. Nothing can prevail against it. Alleluia!


Mary Galvano-Bajohr is a singer/songwriter, LPGA golf instructor, speaker and author. On the golf course she is a dedicated professional, but go to a Yankee game, a Pro-life event or other venue and you just might see her step up to the microphone and sing the National Anthem or the Ave Maria.

Visit Mary’s website at www.marygalvano.com.

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