Because our secular culture and much of our religious culture celebrates Christmas with reckless abandon during the season of Advent, the actual celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas which begins December 25th is anti-climatic. More importantly, the Catholic Church celebrates the Octave of Christmas which concludes on January 1st with the Solemnity of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. In the Extraordinary Calendar it is the Circumcision of the Lord. These eight liturgical days form only one day but extended over eight days. In a sense time stands still for those eight days, a taste of eternity. The following article on the 12 Days of Christmas is very interesting:
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The twelve days of Christmas are not the twelve days before Christmas, but are instead the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25 until January 5), which is when the three Wise Men or Magi arrived on the scene.
In some families, it was and still is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of those twelve days, much as gifts are given to children on each of the days of Hanukkah. Some have suggested that the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is actually a song of instruction with hidden meanings to the basic teachings of the Faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith [see note below].
On the 1st day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 1, Christmas Day, December 25
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)
On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 2, December 26
Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.
On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 3, December 27
Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
On the 4th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 4, December 28
Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.
On the 5th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 5, December 29
Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.
On the 6th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 6, December 30
Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).
On the 7th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 7, December 31
Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
On the 8th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 8, January 1
Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)
On the 9th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 9, January 2
Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness,
6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
On the 10th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 10, January 3
Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)
On the 11th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 11, January 4
Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.
On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Day 12, January 5
Twelve Drummers Drumming
The Twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.
[Note: The popular song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children with secular origins. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the "days" represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.
However, many have questioned the historical accuracy of this origin of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. While some have trying to debunk this as an "urban myth" out of personal agendas, others have tried to deal with this account of the song's origin in the name of historical accuracy (see Snopes on The 12 Days of Christmas). There is little "hard" evidence available either way. Some church historians affirm this account as basically accurate, while others point out apparent historical and logical discrepancies.
However, we need to acknowledge that the "evidence" on both sides is mostly in logical deduction and probabilities. Lack of positive evidence does not automatically provide negative evidence. One internet site devoted to debunking hoaxes and legends says that, "there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation. . .." What is omitted is that there is no "substantive evidence" that will disprove it either.
It is certainly possible, in fact probable, that this view of the song is legendary or anecdotal. Without corroboration and in the absence of "substantive evidence," we probably should not take rigid positions on either side and turn the song into a crusade for personal opinions. That would do more to violate the spirit of Christmas than the song is worth. So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge the likelihood that the song had secular origins.
However, on another level, this should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God's grace, through one more avenue this Christmas. Now, when they hear what they once thought was a secular "nonsense song," they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway? -Dennis R. Bratcher]