The story behind The Twelve Days of Christmas
Why do we have Twelve Days of Christmas? Where did the song originate? And why are the presents from the “true love” so bizarre?
The Twelve Days of Christmas - also known as Twelvetide - is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which is why the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day. It’s thought to have been introduced by the Catholic Church centuries ago, with each of the 12 days up to and including 5 January honouring or remembering important figures or events in Christianity.
The song came along quite a bit later. But what’s it all about?
One theory is that the 12 gifts mentioned were a secret code used by Roman Catholics at a time when they were unable to practice their faith openly. So, “true love” means God, “a partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus Christ, 10 Lords-a-leaping are the 10 Commandments, and “11 pipers piping” represent The Apostles.
This theory has been largely debunked, however.
The other popular theory - that it was originally a children’s memory and forfeit game - seems much more likely. Children who made a mistake while singing the song would have to pay a ‘penalty’ - often a kiss!
Although the words of the song were published in England in 1780 in a children’s book called Mirth Without Mischief, the tune’s origins are probably French. The melody that we use today was written by the English composer Frederic Austin and was published in 1909.
The bizarre gifts added to the fun of the game, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to explain their meaning other than they made the song more of a tongue-twister. And while other versions show some variations in the words, this is the one that has stood the test of time.
So, on the 12th day of Christmas, the ‘lucky’ recipient will have accumulated this collection of gifts from their “true love” …
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five gold rings
Four colly birds
Three French hens
Two turtle doves
...and a partridge in a pear tree!
And on that note, we’d like to wish all our customers a happy and peaceful Christmas.