The Twelve Days of Christmas

Hey, guess what?  It’s Christmas!  Well, technically, it’s not Christmas (still 2 days of Advent left), but I decided to write a little about Christmas this week, so you can save this until December 25th if it makes you feel guilty.

Anyway, there are some radio stations that started playing Christmas songs even before Thanksgiving, which is crazy.  Some Christmas music is sing-songy and devoid of meaning (I mean “woop-de-doop and dickery-dock”?  Really???), but many of our Christmas carols have a very profound meaning.  I couldn’t help but think of one called the Coventry Carol last Friday, a beautiful and mournful song about the lullabies sung by the mothers of the Holy Innocents to their slain children.

The carol I want to focus on is the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”  It seems a pretty fun, nonsensical song with a bunch of strange gifts that most normal children would find strange.  But actually, this song has a very important purpose.  Between 1558 and 1929 in England, it was illegal to be Catholic – not just publically, but privately as well!  Open teaching of the Catholic faith at some times might have brought torture and execution.  This carol was written as a catechism song to teach young Catholics about the most important gifts of their faith.  Now in all fairness, this theory has come under fire, and the sources haven’t been totally verified.  But really, this is a bulletin article not a scholarly journal, so I’m just going to go with it for fun.

Each of the twelve gifts represents a tenant of the Catholic faith.  The partridge in a pear tree given on Christmas Day is, of course, Jesus Christ.  The legend goes that a partridge would act wounded in a tree, struggling and crying out to draw predators away from their young.  In the same way, Christ was born ultimately to take upon himself the sins of us all to protect us and give us life.  Pretty cool, right?  But that’s not all!  Here are the rest of the gifts:

Two Turtle Doves – the Old and New Testaments

Three French Hens – Faith, Hope, and Charity, the theological virtues

Four Calling Birds – the four Evangelists who wrote the Gospels

Fiiive Goooold Riiiings – the first five books of the Bible, called the Penteteuch

Six Geese A-Laying – six days of Creation

Seven Swans A-Swimming – the seven Sacraments

Eight Maids A-Milking – the eight Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing – the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords A-Leaping – the Ten Commandments

Eleven Pipers Piping – the eleven faithful Apostles

Twelve Drummers Drumming – the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed

So there you go.  I bet you won’t think of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” as just a silly song in the future!  These are just a few of the things that make us love our faith even more!  Merry Christmas!

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