song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is actually Christian
Doctrine in Code-Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
email says that the popular Christmas song "The 12 Days of Christmas"
was actually written as a memory device for Christians to remember
and recite doctrine. It says that beginning in the 1500's,
Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith
openly, so "The Twelve Days of Christmas" became a secret
catechism. Several suggestions are listed as to what doctrines
the verses actually represented.
has not found any Catholic or non-Catholic historical or scholarly reference that supports this
allegation. None of the hundreds of emails or citations of
this story on the net that we've seen includes any credible source.
Most have no source at all, but those that do most often cite an
article published on the Catholic Information Network in 1995.
It was authored by Fr. Hal Stockert of Fishnetsite and appears to be
the spark of the eRumor.
On the other hand, there are several sources that list the song as
being of probable French origin. The most notable is the prestigious
New Oxford Book of Carols which not only cites the French roots of
the song, but says it is based on a game that children would play on
the Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany. In the game, each
child would have to try to remember and recite the objects that were
said by a previous child. If successful, the child would
add another object to the list for the next contestant to
recite. If not, the child dropped out. The game would
continue until there was a winner.
There are also other problems with the catechism theory.
The assumption behind it is that the song allowed Catholics
to secretly embrace their beliefs behind the backs of non-Catholic
Christian leaders during a time when being a practicing Catholic was
against the law, for example under Anglican rule. None of the doctrines said to be represented
in the Twelve Days of Christmas, however, was different from the
beliefs of Anglicans or even Presbyterians. There is also the
question that if the song was that important for teaching or
remembering doctrine, why was it associated only with Christmas?
One final note is that the first printed version of the song is said
to be in the children's book "Mirth Without Mischief"
published in 1780 and that describes the song in similar terms as
the Oxford Book of Carols.
A real example of the story as it has
Most folks, I believe, are familiar with the Christmas song, "The
Twelve Days of Christmas".
If you listen to the words carefully, it seems like nonsence set to
rhyme and music.
However, it was written with a serious purpose.
It is more than just a list of twelve silly gifts. Catholics in England
the period 1558 to 1829 were prohibited by law to practice their faith
in public or private. It was illegal to be Catholic. [Note: Parliament
finally emancipated Catholics in England in 1829.]
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one
of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the
basics of their faith. In short, it was a memory aid.
Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, young catholics could
sing the song without fear of imprisonment. The authorities would not
that it was a religious song. Actually, the catecism to which it
rather ecumenical so could probably be claimed to be protestant if
The song's gifts had hidden meanings to the teachings of the Catholic
The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an
earthly suitor, but it refers to God Himself. The "me" who
the presents refers to every baptized person. i.e. the church. The
partridge in a
pear tree is Christ Jesus, the Son of God.
In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge 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..."
Here is a complete list of the 12 symbols with their meanings*:
1 Partridge in a pear tree = The One true God revealed in the person of
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the
"Pentateuch" which contain the law condemning us of our sins.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven
sacraments of the Catholic faith
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the 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