The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is actually Christian Doctrine in Code–Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
This 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.
TruthOrFiction.com 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.