What would YOU do with 264 gifts?
That’s the plight of the narrator in today’s Carol of Comfort & Joy, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. While the twelve days, the days after Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6th, start off relatively tame with just one partridge and one pear tree, by the end we have twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing – you know the rest!
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” has variations in many different places, like England, Scotland, and many islands all around the world, but the earliest copy of this song was written down in 1780 for a song collection called “Mirth without Mischief”. Some sources say this was a children’s game, too, where you had to remember all the lyrics or you had to do something silly as a punishment. But if we look closer at the lyrics, this carol may have started out in French – and been a stealthy Catholic mnemonic.
“What?” You might be thinking. “How are five golden rings Catholic?”
Check this out: according to some scholars, each one of the twelve gifts True Love gives to me fit with some Catholic truth about the faith. “True Love” could be God the Father; Jesus is the partridge; the Old and New Testament are our two turtle doves, the Trinity are our French hens, then the Gospels are our four [coal] birds, and the five golden rings are the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. It goes all the way up to twelve from there, symbolizing other scriptural symbols and theological gifts, popular in a time where Catholics were being persecuted in England.
Even if the original writer didn’t intend for it to be Catholic, each of the gifts have meanings attached to its French origins. “Gold rings” may refer to a ring-necked pheasant, goldfinches, or even canaries in addition to the Pentateuch! It became a reference to the lovely jewelry in its 1780 publication.
So, what would YOU do with 264 gifts? Remember your Catholic roots and share them with others!
Enjoy the Embers Academy choir’s rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” below!