River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The 12 Days of Christmas

February 2004

For many years the Carol "12 Days of Chriistmas" has puzzled people the world around. In this note, transcribed from a broadcast on Radio Norfolk by Canon Ivon Bailey, Ray gives a practical explanation!

Whilst preparing this issue I realised that I was working on the twelfth day of Christmas. This led me to wonder how the popular carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" came about. What in the world do leaping Lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge that won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? Then on Sunday, Canon Ivan Bailey enlightened me on Radio Norfolk.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality that the children could remember.

The PARTRIDGE in the pear tree was JESUS CHRIST.


Three FRENCH HENS stood for FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE.

Four CALLING BIRDS were the four gospels: MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE, and JOHN.

Five GOLDEN RINGS recalled the TORAH or LAW, the first five books of the Old Testament.

Six GEESE a-laying stood for the SIX DAYS of CREATION.

Seven SWANS a-swimming represented the SEVENFOLD GIFTS of the HOLY SPIRIT (prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy).

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.

Ten LORDS a-leaping were the TEN COMMANDMENTS.

Eleven PIPERS piping stood for the eleven FAITHFUL DISCIPLES.

Twelve DRUMMERS drumming symbolized the twelve POINTS of BELIEF in the


So now you know, Editor

Ray Thompson

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