The Twelve Days of Christmas

“There ain’t no party like a Catholic party…cause the Catholic party don’t stop!” Oh yeah – Christian Christmas beats secular Christmas – ours goes on a full twelve days 🙂 Unlike those families who dump their Christmas trees with straggly bits of tinsel still hanging from them at the end of the street on Boxing Day.

Legend has it that the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol was a catechism song for Catholic children during the suppression of Catholicism in England. It seems that no one quite agrees whether or not this theory is true, but it’s certainly interesting, as are many of the other theories about hidden messages of Catholicism in Elizabethan England (such as in Shakespeare’s plays). So, if this hypothesis is indeed historical, here are what each of the Twelve Days characters stand for:

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ. (Remember Christ’s sadness over Jerusalem, exclaiming, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks…”)

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 and John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

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

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness,  Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control. (Am I alone in thinking that Catholics believe in twelve?!)

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.


About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

3 responses to “The Twelve Days of Christmas

  • Tonia

    I believe there are usually 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 but the Vulgate lists 12 ( adds generosity, modesty and chastity) and is referenced in the Catechism (para 1832).

    In Australia we’re fortunate enough to be allowed to go into state schools and teach Catholic scripture to Catholic children (mainly primary schools). It’s all done by volunteers and lessons are usually 30 minues a week. Some schools also allow time for special joint Catholic/Anglican Christmas and Easter assemblies. The Catholilc children often explain the 12 days of Christmas at the Christmas assembly. They love the idea of a secret code!

  • lucille

    Wow! I like it. Best explained! congratulations!

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