Original Meaning and Traditions Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas, An Irish Christmas Code and 12th Night

ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS...A Glorious 14 Days of Celebration

© Patty Inglish, 12/03/11.

Such a lot of traditions fill Christmas Eve, the actual Twelve Days of Christmas, Twelfth Night, and Orthodox Christmas and Epiphany, that one can scarcely handle the Glory of them all at once. And then, there is the traditional Handsel's Monday nearest Orthodox Christmas, where children go door to door for coins; in parts of Scotland it's the first Monday of the new year or the first Monday after the 12th of January, when an elaborate celebration is held in farming communities. This loaded calendar makes for a lot of activities across a fortnight, all packed in from December 24 to January 6 (or 7).

We really have 14 days of Christmas, the famous Twelve Days falling in between one Christmas Eve and another Christmas.

In fact, during American Colonial days, Christmas was celebrated from December 25 - January 6, as it had been in England. It was a time of solemn church services, banquets, and similar events. Then for a time, Christmas festivities targeted as too festive were banned for immorality. The secret of the song The 12 Days of Christmas was kept well, because it was thought only a child's counting song from the one-room school houses.

Controversy

Some or many Believers resent the greeting Happy Holidays that includes all religious and secular holidays in December and January, because it is a mandate against Merry Christmas. I say them both -- Christmas is two weeks of holy days (holidays) and feast days, when I understand the song and the remembrances on each of the days.

In addition, preacher Jesse Duplantis of Louisiana says he tells members of other faiths that he will celebrate their holidays with them and then invite them also to celebrate Christmas with him. It's a good example. When businesses where I've worked instructed us to say Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas, I said both whenever possible and if not, I thought about The Twelve Days of Christmas and the code.

Why are the Twelve Days famous? They have become a song sung in many languages (and parodies) and a legend -- But in old Ireland, they were a Code for celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, God's Gift to Mankind.

A Ban On Celebrating Christmas

A handful of my ancestors moved to Ireland while others remained in England a few hundred years ago. They all experienced the ban by English Parliament on Christmas celebrations for being sacrilegious and they stopped making mince pies. Many of these people and their neighbors were Presbyterian, which already had somber church services, so this pleased the Parliament. Scotland placed a ban as well on revelries and mince pie, and this took care of another branch of my family.

Mincemeat pies were banned, because they had become a symbol of the Christmas season. In the American Colonies before the Revolution, mince pies and Christmas were banned also, especially by the Puritans in the Northeast, for up two decades. My British ancestors in the New World saw fines levied by the government for having mince pies, celebrating in the streets, gambling, dancing, drinking, and other activities ("revelries"). After the war was over and America was independent, my family baked mince pies again, making their own mincemeat and using real beef. The revelries were a little slower in taking shape again.

Singing The Twelve Days of Christmas had been the workaround for the obstacle of laws passed against Christmas festivities. The popular song is still celebrated today.

The Code of The 12 Days of Christmas Carol

Day of Christmas
Meaning
Additional Importance
December 24
Christmas Eve, the Holy Night when the Animals talk, according to legend.
Joseph and Mary accepted lodgings in a stable.
Day 1: December 25
Christ (The One) is a Partridge in a Pear Tree and God's Gift to the Believer/Church (the singer of the song)
Christmas Day of Christ's Birth
Day 2: December 26
2 Turtle Doves represent Old and New Testaments. Signs of Christ's Advent are found in all of the books of each.
Biblegateway.com/ offers dozens of translations, including literal.
Day 3: December 27
3 French Hens are from Faith , Hope and Love.
From I Corinthians 13, New Testament
Day 4: December 28
4 Calling Birds are the Books of The Gospels.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - Four versions of Christ's life, death, and reserrection.
Day 5: December 29
5 Golden Rings are the 5 Books of the Torah.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament .
Day 6: December 30
6 Geese Laying are the Six Days of Creation.
 
Day 7: December 31
7 Swans Swimming symbolize the Gifts of the Spirit.
From the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 -- Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom, Special Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Discerning of Spirits, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues.
Day 8: January 1
8 Maids Milking represent the Beatitudes form the Sermon On the Mount (see below)
Mathew 5: 3-11
Day 9: January 2
9 Ladies Dancing are the 9 Fruits of the Spirit.
Nine gifts in Galatians 22 and 23 - Love, joy, peace, forbearance )long-sufferig tolerance), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Day 10: January 3
10 Lords Leaping are the 10 Commandments.
 
Day 11: January 4
11 Pipers Piping are the 11 Disciples that continued spreading (piping) the Good News after Judas left.
 
Day 12: January 5
12 Drummers Drumming show the Apostles Creed of the Church. (see below)
Christmas Eve on the Julian Calendar
January 6
An Orthodox Christmas, especially in Armenia, but on the Gregorian Calendar, this is Epiphany. Much of Orthodox Christendom celebrates Christmas on January 7.
On Epiphany (or Theophony), Christ was revealed by God as His Son to the Wise Men (Maji).

Spectacular Animation For the Carol

The Journey of Epiphany

The Maji journeying after the Star of Bethlehem.
The Maji journeying after the Star of Bethlehem. | Source

SNAPSHOT: Christmas 2011

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge | Source
Source

The Beatitudes, from Young's Literal Translation

Matthew 5: 3-11; from BibleGateway.com:

  • 3. Happy the poor in spirit -- because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
  • 4. Happy the mourning -- because they shall be comforted.
  • 5. Happy the meek -- because they shall inherit the land.
  • 6. Happy those hungering and thirsting for righteousness -- because they shall be filled.
  • 7. Happy the kind -- because they shall find kindness.
  • 8. Happy the clean in heart -- because they shall see God.
  • 9. Happy the peacemakers -- because they shall be called Sons of God.
  • 10. Happy those persecuted for righteousness' sake -- because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
  • 11. Happy are ye whenever they may reproach you, and may persecute, and may say any evil thing against you falsely for my sake...

Orthodox Icon of the Nativity

An icon (religious painting) from the Orthodox Church.
An icon (religious painting) from the Orthodox Church. | Source

The Apostles' Creed from Memory

The Apostles' Creed is recited in a few versions, and one of the popular texts often used today is one that I learned and offered below. originally, it was thought that each one of the 12 Disciples contributed one line of the Creed, but later scriptural researchers and critics felt the text was written much later and after the deaths of the first 12 Apostles.

  1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth
  2. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord
  3. Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary
  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
  5. He descended into Hell (this phrase if often left out). On the third day, he rose again from he dead.
  6. He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
  7. He will come again to judge the quick (living) and the dead.
  8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  9. the holy catholic (all believers) Church, the Communion of Saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and life everlasting.

Amen.

A longer version is the Nicene Creed, which has been set to music by a number of churches and individuals and can be lovely to hear.

Twelfth Night in Literature

Twelfth Night s a night of costume parties and in certain parts of the world, it marks the beginning of Mardi Gras Season with weekly parties until the week of Mardi Gras, when nightly parties rule.

The Old Fox Deceiv'd (Richard Jury Mystery)
The Old Fox Deceiv'd (Richard Jury Mystery)

A Twelfth Night Celebration in a pub in a town in the UK turns deadly. Intrigue and mystery are attended by Detective Inspector Richard Jury of Scotland Yard, Sergeant Wiggins and his natural cures, and the sometimes-Lord Ardry - Melrose Plant.

 
Twelfth Night begins the Mardi Gras Season that lasts until Fat Tuesday.
Twelfth Night begins the Mardi Gras Season that lasts until Fat Tuesday. | Source

COMEDY

William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will was the first Shakespearean play I saw in high school, after reading them all. I enjoyed the comedy set among the revelries that were once outlawed for Christmas in UK and Colonial America.

On top of this are practical jokes, missing brothers and twins, women disguising themselves as men and having women fall in love with them, madness and ambition, love making people sick, and so on.

The play has remained my favorite of Shakespeare's to this day.

MYSTERY

Twelfth Night is important in the Martha Grimes mystery The Old Fox Deceiv'd as well. This is one of my favorites in the Richard Jury series. The title of the book is a pub in Rackmore, England, on the North Sea.

Twelfth Night is celebrated in the foggy fishing village and more than one person wears the same costume, but only one is found murdered on a sidewalk bench on the Angel Steps. No one seems to know who she is, but she might be related to the richest family in town.

It's all a kind of dark, dark Mardi Gras.

More by this Author


Comments 26 comments

Kiara Dearest profile image

Kiara Dearest 5 years ago

Good info. Thanks Patty. I will treasure Christmas for the rest of my life.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

Patty, I had no idea that the 12 Days of Christmas were in celebration of different events and holidays. I thought the 12 days were the days leading up to Christmas Day...lol

I have to enlighten my friends because we have been singing the song forever and never knew the meaning.

Thank you Patty, I really learned something new today!


ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 5 years ago from United States

How interesting! I didn't know that the Twelve Days of Christmas was a clever code. I also enjoyed reading about your ancestors. I guess my ancestors in Ireland and Scotland had to endure the same thing... Thanks for sharing!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Kiara - Takes on new meaning, doesn't it? Merry Christmas!

Cardisa - It's been so long that the original purpose of the song has been almost forgotten. I think church services should include this song!

The Practical Mommy - Our ancestors from UK have endured massive tribulations, so we can honor them with this song, too. Thanks for visiting!


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 5 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Fantastic info here Patty. I love the code, never heard of it before and just love it. Very interesting. Love this hub!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

This is a lot of information in one place. Thanks for the work!! Merry Christmas!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Hi Frieda - Nice of you to visit! This is one of my favorite things to share during Christmas holidays - we hear about all kinds of codes used when people are oppressed. I wish more people celebrated 12th Night here, though, so I have to talk it up.

Kathleen Cochran - Glad you enjoyed looking at it all. :)


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Fascinating! I have always wondered about the 12 days of Christmas, along with the 12 disciples. Wonderful, interesting hub! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! (both!) Steph


DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 5 years ago from USA

Thank you for explaining the history and tradition behind both the song and the 12 days of Christmas; how interesting! While I enjoyed this entire hub and found it useful, I especially liked your reference to one of our favorite pastors, Jesse Duplantis. I also liked the reminder that bosses and governments may be able to dictate what we can or cannot say, but they cannot control what we think. Voted up and shared on my social networks because I think this is valuable information.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

stephhicks68 - And the same greetings to you!~ I can hardly wait for December 24!

DonnaCosmato - Thanks for spreading the word. History like this can be buried and lost forever if people don't share it. Jesse Duplantis is one of my favorites, alright.


Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

Wow - fantastic information. PLUS, I love your poetic phrase in the first paragraph: "...one can scarcely handle the Glory of them all at once." Great stuff, Patty!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Maren, thank you! We have plenty to do now to celebrate the faith-based Christmas for two whole weeks. Maybe we can invite secular or other-faith friends to celebrate with us one of the days and we can go to their Christmas Party or other Celebration.

Now every time I sing 'On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..' it is as if the wind of the Spirit has struck me and I stop to think.


Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

Patty thanks for letting us in on the 14 day celebration, it is good to try to know one's heritage.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

It is, Dave! - and with Mohawk on the other side, there are even more celebrations to attend and create. Thanks for commenting!


Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

Patty, this is an AMAZING and INSPIRATIONAL Hub if ever there was one! Thank you so much for sharing! I think many in the U.S. get the Advent Calendar leading up to Christmas confused with the 12-Days of Christmas beginning on Christmas Eve and after! You are just the BEST!! Voted up across the board and posted to Facebook! Happy Season of Thanks-Living! Blessings, Earth Angel!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

It would be great to see more people celebrate all two weeks of events. And I have an advent calendar too. How about you?


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

I was familiar with the secret code before. It is similar to people not realizing that the X in Xmas is a symbol of the cross. Whenever I hear Happy Holidays, I always see it as a way for people to mention both Christmas and New Year's in one phrase. After all, you want people to have a Happy New Year too. Yes?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Yes, and Happy 12th Night and all the rest. Thanks, Flora.


Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 5 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

This is very interesting. In our church the 12 Articles of the Apostolic Declaration of Faith is still recited regularly. For a while the part "He descended into Hell" was left out but it has been added again. The reasoning is that the death Jesus suffered was the "hell"


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Fascinating info. Patty ... who would have thought that mince pies could be so subversively dangerous? :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

How about that, Angie? Dangerous pies...should be a novel title.

Hi Hendrika - I've seen the descent put in and taken out several times as well. Thanks for commenting.


Smokes Angel profile image

Smokes Angel 3 years ago from Broke Alabama

minced meat is gross let alone in a pie lol


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

I still like it, especially with beef roast shredded into the mix.


haikutwinkle profile image

haikutwinkle 3 years ago

your hubs are always fabulous and informational...


Lady LaShonda profile image

Lady LaShonda 3 years ago from Atlantic City, New Jersey

Very interesting.......Thank you for posting this....I never knew the 12 days of Christmas was a coded song...I will share this information.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Hi Lady LaShonda - I can well see how comedians have had a really good tine with thhir parodies...also how it is diffuclt to imagine Christmas being illegal, but some folks feel that it may become illegal again. We'll have to come up with a new code!

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