by James C. Sprouse, Senior Pastor
Christmas, as celebrated by the church, is a season and not limited to just one day. The season includes Christmas Day and the following 11 days. Christmas is technically sandwiched between December 25 and January 6, the date which celebrates the arrival of the magi. So, Christmas season is actually twelve days long.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is a popular song we sing this time of the year and most of us have wondered from time to time what the gifts are all about. I don’t know what Molly plans to give me this Christmas, but I hope it is not seven swans swimming or 11 pipers piping, or any of those gifts mentioned in the song. So in doing a little research on the origin of the song and its gifts, I offer the following as a Christmas gift:
From 1558 to1829 Roman Catholics who lived in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. In order to keep faith with many of its important teachings alive, the Twelve Days of Christmas was composed as a kind of catechism. The different gifts were designed to represent 12 important theological teachings the Roman Church required its members to remember.
The following is combined from a variety of sources:
1. Partridge in a pear tree: The partridge is Jesus Christ. A partridge feigns injury to protect its young from predators thus Jesus draws the wrath of Satan upon Himself that we may be spared. The pear tree is one of the many symbols of salvation.
2. Two turtledoves: in Hebrew Bible and New Testaments – doves recall the sacrifice offered at Passover even by the poorest of persons, those who could not afford a lamb.
3. Three French hens: faith, hope and charity. They symbolize also the three gifts of the three magi.
4. Four colly birds: the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
5. Five gold rings: symbolizes the Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. For Romans Catholics it also refers to the five obligatory sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, confession, penance and extreme unction. The other two sacraments of marriage and holy orders are not for everyone.
6. Six geese a-laying: the six days of creation.
7. Seven swans a-swimming: the seven gifts of the Sprit in I Corinthians 12, and the seven works of mercy. It is also the number for perfection.
8 .Eight maids a-milking: the eight beatitudes.
9. Nine ladies dancing: the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
10. Ten lords a-leaping: the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping: the eleven faithful disciples.
12. Twelve drummers drumming: the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed; the twelve tribes of Israel; and the twelve minor prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
The specific origins of this song are not known to us, however, the earliest English language print version appeared first in 1780 in a children’s book titled: Mirth Without Mischief. I just thought you would like to know, if you didn’t already, the teachings behind the lyrics. So, in a way, the beautiful Christmas song of unknown origin has, once again, catechized and blessed us.
May God bless you and yours with all good things this entire Christmas season!