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The Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas

Updated on December 25, 2012
Twelve Days of Christmas
Twelve Days of Christmas | Source

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Nonsense Song or Catechism??

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree.

Of course, the real question is this: Why did your true love give you a partridge? You know, on day five, those gold rings are pretty nice, but what are you going to do with a partridge? Where would you go to to exchange the partridge, and how much money would they put on the gift card? And who celebrates Christmas for twelve days, anyway?

Unless you are Catholic, you may not be aware of what is meant by the Twelve Days of Christmas. Among Catholics, Episcopalians and members of some other denominations, the Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days running from Christmas Day through January 6, the day of the Epiphany. Church tradition holds that The Wise Men from the East arrived on the day of the Epiphany with three gifts for the Christ Child: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These twelve days are the twelve days of the traditional Christmas season in the church.

Some Catholic scholars believe that the Twelve Days of Christmas song was written in England during the 16th century, when it was unsafe for Catholics to discuss their beliefs openly. According to these scholars, each of the twelve days stood for a different theological idea closely associated with Catholicism. This theory is disputed by Snopes and some others.

Here are the supposed hidden meanings for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas - and the 2012 price of all those birds, servants, entertainers and golden rings. The cost for these items has been calculated by PNC Weath Management, which has a pretty neat interactive presentation on the subject at the link.


A Partridge in a Pear Tree

A partridge - the least expensive item on this list.
A partridge - the least expensive item on this list. | Source

Some Catholics believe that the partridge in the pear tree is Jesus Christ. The pear tree is the Cross. This has to be considered the most theologically significant of the twelve symbols depicted in this carol, but it is not reflected in the market price of the items bought. At $15, the partridge is the least expensive item on our list. The pear tree runs $189.99.

Two Turtledoves

A turtledove
A turtledove | Source

The two turtledoves are said to symbolize the Old Testament and the New Testament. Buying the Bible would probably be less expensive: two turtledoves will set you back $125.

Three French Hens

This is actually an English hen.
This is actually an English hen. | Source

There are three possible interpretations for the three french hens. Some scholars believe that these hens stood for three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Others hold that the three fowl are the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A third interpretation suggests that they represent the three gifts of the Wise Men. Compared to these intangible and/or priceless things, the hens are almost certainly the best deal in the marketplace; they cost $165.

Four Colly Birds

A colly bird is a blackbird
A colly bird is a blackbird | Source

Although many people sing this verse and call these fowl "calling birds" the proper term is colly birds. They are common blackbirds... and they may be named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The colly birds are supposed to represent the Four Gospels. PNC Wealth Management, the organization that calculated the value of these different gifts have categorized the colly birds as canaries, costing about $519.96.

Five Gold Rings

Gold ring
Gold ring | Source

Five golden rings! Are they lovely baubles for your hands, or are they the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament? The five books in the Pentateuch are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Of course, they may just be rings... in which case, they will cost you $750.00.

The funny thing, of course, is that these rings are not actually jewelry. In the original song, the five gold rings were actually ring-necked pheasants. The first seven gifts in this song are all birds.

Six Geese A-Laying

Geese
Geese | Source

According to the Bible, God took six days to create the Earth... and some people think these six geese represent those six days. Of course, if they are really just geese, they cost $210.

Seven Swans A-Swimming

Swan
Swan | Source

Seven swans - such beautiful, majestic birds! They may or may not symbolize a concept worthy of their stature: they are said to represent the seven spiritual gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership and mercy. The swans command a majestic price: they cost $1000 apiece for a total of $7000.

Eight Maids A-Milking

Milkmaid
Milkmaid | Source

See that young milkmaid working so hard for minimum wage? Maybe she will have her spirits lightened if she remembers that she stands for one of the eight Beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount.

  1. Blessed be the poor in spirit.
  2. Blessed be those who mourn.
  3. Blessed are the meek.
  4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
  5. Blessed are the merciful.
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart.
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers.
  8. Blessed be those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.

She may be blessed, but she still won't get paid all that well. The PNC index pays her minimum wage. You can get eight of them for an hour for $58.

Nine Ladies Dancing

A Lady Dancing
A Lady Dancing | Source

These lovely ladies may be dancing with joy because they represent the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self - control. Or they just be getting ready to give us a great performance of The Nutcracker. Nine ladies dancing for an hour will cost you $6,294.

Ten Lords A-Leaping

A Lord A-Leaping
A Lord A-Leaping | Source

This young lord a-leaping has a lot to live up to: he's supposed to represent one of the Twelve Commandments. Given his age, he might be the commandment "honor thy father and mother." In the meantime, a performance by this boy and his nine leaping friends will make $4767.

Eleven Pipers Piping

Bagpiper
Bagpiper | Source

So your true love has invited eleven bagpipers to your house to play. What are their names? Well, some folks think these pipers stand for the eleven faithful disciples who did not betray Jesus. In that case, their names are Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James - but not Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Once the bagpipers are done, you will have to pay them - and they will cost $2,562.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Drummer
Drummer | Source

Twelve drummers drumming may be intended to symbolize the twelve basic beliefs put forth by The Apostles' Creed. The twelve drummers drumming certainly intend to get paid for their performance, which will cost about $2776.

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