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This document was last modified 7:09 PM 12/6/2007
original 6:55 PM 3/6/99

The Real 12 Days of Christmas

After England proclaimed an official state church in the 16th century, teaching any other religion was strictly prohibited. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted  to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics.. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember. It is also a good device for Protestants, much as the song "Mary had a Little Lamb" is a coded song.

For the next three centuries creative teaching for children was used, especially with lyrics and songs. The 12 Days of Christmas was one of these that did not use the name of “God,” but rather referred to God in secret Christian symbols. Even the repetition refers to God’s ongoing gifts and blessings to His children.

Translation:
True love Jesus Christ  [John 13:34: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.]
partridge bird willing to die to defend its young, as Christ was willing to die for us. [Mt 23:37 & Lu 13:34: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!]
pear tree the cross. [Joh 19:17  And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha]
two turtledoves Mary and Joseph’s offered sacrifice for Jesus required by law. [Luke 2:24] [Also the Old & New Testament, the Law & Grace.]
three French Hens valuable poultry in the 16th century that only the rich could afford, like the wise men’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh [Matthew 1:11]. [Also Faith, Hope & Love.]
four calling birds four Gospel writers, like birds calling out with loud and distinctive voices. [Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John in the NT]
five golden rings the Torah, treated as most valuable and treasured, as is gold. [The first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.]
 six geese a-laying the six days of new life, the creation part of the first week. [1. heavens of water divided into light and dark; 2. firmament separated the waters; 3. land below the firmament; 4. heavens filled with stars and sun and moon; 5. firmament and waters filled with flying and swimming life; 6. land filled with life and man. Genesis 1]
seven swans a swimming the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that also change us from ugly ducklings into graceful (grace-filled) adults. [Prophesy, serving, teaching, encouragement, contributing, leadership, mercy; Rom 12:6-8.].
eight maids a-milking the eight Beatitudes that nurture and strengthen as milk does a child. [Poor in spirit..., those that mourn..., meek..., hunger and thirst for righteousness..., merciful..., pure in heart..., peacemaker..., persecuted because of righteousness... Mat 5:3-12.]
nine ladies dancing rejoicing over the nine fruits of the spirit. [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; Gal 5:22-23]
ten lords a-leaping Lords were men of authority to command people’s obedience, like the ten commandments. [Exo 20:3-17]
eleven pipers piping the eleven faithful apostles following the chief piper and becoming like Him. [Mark 3:16-19: Peter, James (the son of Zebedee), John (the son of Zebedee), Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Thaddaeus, and Simon.]
twelve drummers drumming the loud steady rhythm for marchers to follow as is the points of the Apostle’s Creed. [A collection of beliefs in different forms that are broken into 12 parts and part of the Roman Tradition, but having no direct connection to the apostles, but having a basis in the Bible, yet cannot be considered complete doctrine.] [A different perspective is the recurring theme of twelve: 1. sons of Jacob, 2. Apostles, 3. gates in Jerusalem, and 4. themes in Revelation.]

This material is part of what comes from the book
The Real 12 Days of Christmas written by Helen Haidle.

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