Imagine this. We are entering the next Malayali family’s house for the annual unit Christmas carol. The house is ornate with a beautiful Christmas tree and a manager that somehow beat the last house you went to (you know how competitive manger decorating contests can get). Your eyes wander as to what snacks you might munch on after gracing their abode with stunning vocals. Just then, you are snapped into reality as one of the aunties yell out, “12 days of Christmas, everyone turn to page 4!” We go on with the partridges in pear trees, geese, maids, ladies and many many more gifts. In the middle of this, I often wonder to myself: what is the significance of 12 days, first and foremost? Secondly, what is the significance of these gifts? Join me as we break down one of the Christmas Classics.
The 12 days, otherwise known as Twelvetide, refers to the duration between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Magi, the three wise men. This day of arrival is said to be January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. The Magi followed the guiding star all the way to Bethlehem in Judea to honor and celebrate the birth of Christ the Redeemer.
Now, we come to the question of the hour. What do the different gifts mean? Frankly, if a “true-love” had presented all these gifts… I may have recommended a financial advisor. Okay, I digress. Although various interpretations of the song exist, one predominant theory is that the different gifts represent aspects of Christian faith. Let us take a deeper look at these gifts:
The one Partridge in Pear Trees represents Jesus Christ.
Old Testament and New Testament are the two turtle doves.
Three French Hens represent the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Four Calling Birds are symbols for the four gospels.
While the five Golden Rings are meant to represent the Pentatuach – the first five books of the Old Testament.
The six Geese- A- Laying illustrate the first six days of creation.
Seven Swans A-Swimming symbolize The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which include: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
The eight beatitudes are represented in the eight Maids-a-milking.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, otherwise known as the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit is portrayed through nine Ladies dancing.
Ten Lords-A-leaping represent the Ten Commandments.
Eleven Pipers Piping are the eleven faithful apostles (sorry Judas).
And lastly, the Twelve drummers drumming are the twelve fundamental principles of faith that we profess during the Apostle’s Creed.
And with that we have reached the conclusion of our Christmas classic breakdown. Songs like the Twelve Days of Christmas truly emphasize how intentional our traditions can be in honoring our faith, even though we may not have yet realized it! With the holidays becoming increasingly commercialized, it can be difficult to understand the “why” behind the many Christmas traditions. This season, let us continue to seek a deeper connection with our songs, prayers, and actions to further understand their origins and strengthen our faith.