ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

Updated on December 23, 2016
Chuck profile image

Chuck enjoys celebrating holidays with his family. This has led to an interest in researching & writing about holidays & their traditions.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...Four Calling Birds

In the discussion dealing with the Partridge in a Pear Tree in the first stanza of the song it was pointed out that the gift of a partridge in a pear tree may have come about because of a mix-up between French and English.

The Four Calling Birds in this stanza is due to a mix up between the English language as spoken in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the English spoken today. It could also be due to a mix up between English as spoken in England and English as spoken in England's former colonies, particularly the United States and Australia.

When they get to this stanza many people may wonder just what is a calling bird. Most probably just assume that it is the name used in past centuries for one of our common birds that goes by a different name today.

It's Colly Birds, Not "Calling Birds"

The verse, four calling birds, is actually a corruption of the English word colly or collie . So, we are referring to four colly birds or four collie bird s (the words to the song were probably written before the creation of the dictionary, so the spelling of old words tends to be flexible).

What is a colly bird? It is a black bird. In England a coal mine is called a colliery and colly or collie is a derivation of this and means black like coal. For a long time in England, blackbirds have been referred to as both blackbirds (as in the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence ) and colly birds as in The Twelve Days of Christmas .

Even in Tudor England these birds went by two different names so it is not so unusual that there would be some confusion three centuries and a couple of continents later.

While the name blackbird migrated beyond England, the name collie bird remained behind in England where, even there, it tended to diminish in use over the centuries. Today, many published versions of the song in the U.S. and Australia give the birds' name as calling birds rather than collie birds.

As to why the person in the song would give his true love a gift of blackbirds, the answer is that this would have been another gift of food. Blackbirds were plentiful and were a common food.

From the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence we see them being served as a meat pie and this may have been the way they were commonly served. In times past in Great Britain, pies were a convenient way to serve and eat a meal with the meat, potatoes and any vegetables all cooked together in an easy to handle crust (forks not having been invented at that time, table utensils consisted of knives, spoons and one's fingers).

It wasn't until the British began establishing colonies in what is now the United States that pies (at least in the United States) evolved from being a main course to being a desert.

© 2006 Chuck Nugent

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Bobby Beeman 

      5 years ago

      The 4 Colly birds evolved by devine intervention into Calling birds. It is in reference to the four Gospells calling out salvation to lost souls.

    • profile image

      Pat in Ann Arbor,Mi. 

      5 years ago

      Or it might refer to the Coly(Mousebird) once widely distributed in Europe and the UK.

    • profile image

      Meghan 

      6 years ago

      Are you sure about the birds?I mean most birds have a "bird call".So does it specifficly mean that one bird?

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Mary Lou - you are correct and thank you for pointing out this fact about starlings.

      While a common nuisance in much of the eastern North America, starlings are not native to North America I remember reading somewhere that during the 19th century some individual in New York or one of the other eastern states who liked Shakespeare attempted import and release members of each species of bird that was not native to North America but mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. Starlings were among those he brought over and released and they thrived and became a common nuisance.

      Thanks again

      Chuck

    • profile image

      Mary Lou 

      7 years ago

      Blackbirds include starlings, which were kept as pets in England because of their singing.

    • profile image

      Eanraig 

      7 years ago

      An interesting thought, and one I have heard repeated, however I would submit that Collie birds could refer to any small bird caught in the forest.

      Coille is the genitive form of the Gaelic word coill and means a forest. Many small birds were given names such as

      calman-coille - woodpigeon, corcan-coille - bullfinch, lasair-choille - goldfinch, and of course the famous bird of the Highland forests, the capull-coille (capercaille).

      One fact is often overlooked among people that search for English origins of this song is that Christmas was not a major holiday in England during the time this song originated and in fact Christmas celebrations were outlawed by Cromwell during his reign. The origins of this song are in France and Scotland (The Auld Alliance) where Christmas celebrations were prolonged events with much rowdy celebrating and feasting.

      To me assuming an origin of collie birds from English slang is as silly to me as some ignoring the Gaelic origin of the word Collie dog. English thought is that the word originates also from their slang for "black-colored" when in fact it originates from the word Callaidh which means "active, clever,quick and nimble" - all words that describe the breed. They will try to assign an origin to any European language except the one the breed originated in - a clear reminder of the racism and cultural snobbery inflicted upon the Gaelic speakers in the past.

    • profile image

      VivekSri 

      8 years ago

      Great idol and good bird story. Would like to excavate more on this topic, thanks that your hub showed the way.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Carrie C. - thanks for the comment and for pointing out that fruit trees are not native to North America and what we have were brought here from Europe.

      In my Hub "Cranberries – History and Recipes" ( https://hubpages.com/food/Cranberries--History-and... ) I did point out that cranberries, blueberries and concord grapes were the only fruits native to North America.

      Thanks again.

      Chuck

    • profile image

      Carrie C.  

      8 years ago

      Good article, but I feel I should point out that there were, in fact, no real native fruit trees where the English landed in North America. Apples are actually native to Asia, but had been brought to Europe. Cranberries were native; hickory nuts were native. I'll have to check, but I think blueberries were native. Really, though, very little else would have been available to early English settlers in North America that they did not also have in England, and that they had not, in fact, brought with them.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      11 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thanks for the comment, Ralph. I'm working on the pictures and hope to have them added, along with the remaining 7 days, soon. Between my regular job, grading finals for the evening classes I teach and Christmas shopping, my writing time has shrunk to about 40 minutes before breakfast in the morning. But I am glad people enjoy the articles.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      11 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Great job on these hubs! A few pictures would help.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)