The Story Behind The 12 Days of Christmas
Spreading the Catholic faith was banned in sixteenth-century England. Those who taught their children Catholicism could be drawn and arrested. To hide the important and taboo portions of their teaching, clerics wrote poems that seemed inconspicuous to most people. However, these verses had hidden meanings that taught the church’s most important messages. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is supposed to be one of these teaching tools.
Meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas
Below is an excerpt from Crosswalk.com, in which Ace Collins goes through the lyrics of "12 Days of Christmas" and explains the meaning of each gift.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . a partridge in a pear tree.
The partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on the first day of Christmas. Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge, the only bird that will die to protect its young.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . two turtledoves.
These twin birds represent the Old and New Testaments. So in this gift, the singer finds the complete story of Christian faith and God’s plan for the world. The doves are the biblical roadmap that is available to everyone.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . three French hens.
These birds represent faith, hope, and love. This gift hearkens back to 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter written by the apostle Paul.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . four calling birds.
One of the easiest facets of the song’s code to figure out, these fowl are the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . five gold rings.
The gift of the rings represents the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . six geese a-laying.
These lyrics can be traced back to the first story found in the Bible. Each egg is a day in creation, a time when the world was “hatched” or formed by God.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . seven swans a-swimming.
It would take someone quite familiar with the Bible to identify this gift. Hidden in the code are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. As swans are one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures on earth, they would seem to be a perfect symbol of spiritual gifts.
Read more of the 12 Days of Christmas on Crosswalk here.
Watch some of our favorite performances of this famous Christmas carol below!