On the Third Day of Christmas

On the Third Day of Christmas - Three French Hens

Dec 20, 2006 (updated 12/27/2010)

The three French Hens probably refer to a variety of chicken from France. There are many varieties of chicken and in the period during which this carol developed there were three main varieties of chickens associated with France.

These were the Crevecoeur, Houdans and the La Fleche. The fact that they referred to a French rather than an English variety of chicken may be an indication that the carol originated in France or the words French Hens may have just had a good sound.

Chickens were domesticated in pre-historic times and have been a common barnyard animal for thousands of years. Since chickens were a common domesticated fowl it is only natural that they would be on the menu of great feasts.  

Unlike some of the other birds in the song, chickens, being domesticated, would be readily available for an evening's feast. While game birds, like the partridge, would only be available on the menu if the day's hunt had been successful.

For the nobility and wealthy merchant class, the Christmas celebration was not limited to Christmas but was celebrated from Christmas, the birth of Christ, to Epiphany, the day on which the Magi arrived at the manger in Bethlehem a couple of weeks after the birth of Christ.

Food was a big part of the celebrations as people would gather each night for a festive meal followed by singing, dancing and a general evening of good time.

© 2006 Chuck Nugent

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3 comments

Eanraig 5 years ago

A French Hen is a Turkey. In Gaelic the Turkey is called Cearc-Fhrangach (lit.French Hen. Turkeys were very popular among the French nobility as early as the mid 16th century as they were much more tasty and tender than than the other large feast birds eaten at that time such as cormorant, heron peacock, and swan.

The turkey had been imported to France by early Jesuit missionaries to the New World and in some dialects of French are still known as "Jesuite".


enzymologist 7 years ago

In Greek the literal translation of the turkey is a "french bird" so perhaps it is a reference to turkeys....a Christmas carol that also has a partridge, geese, swans etc would hardly be complete without the christmas turkey(s)...and I always thought it was calling birds, not collie birds?


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moonlake 8 years ago from America

Love chickens. Like your three little hens.

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