The True Meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas

During Christmas season many listen to the song the “12 Days of Christmas” but they do not truly understand the meaning of each of the gifts given to each and everyone of us during those 12 days.

The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol. 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 the Church. explains that, The 12 days of Christmas in Christian tradition signifies the time between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the three wise men, also known as the Magi. It starts on December 25, which is celebrated as Christmas Day, and lasts until January 6, which is the Epiphany, also referred to as Three Kings’ Day.”

Twelve Days of Christmas Carol with Lyrics & They’re Meaning

Here are the 12 Gifts from God depicted in the 12 Days of Christmas:

1. 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.

2. Two Turtledoves

These twin birds represent the Old and New Testaments. So, in this gift, the singer finds the complete story of the Christian faith and God’s plan for the world. The doves are the biblical roadmap that is available to everyone.

3. 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. It also represents the Holy Trinity: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

4. 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.

5. Five Gold Rings

The gift of the rings represents the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy

6. 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 when God “hatched” or formed the world.

  1. God created the heavens and the earth
  2. God created the sky and seas
  3. God created the land and plants
  4. God created the sun, moon, and stars
  5. God created fish and birds
  6. God created land animals and man

7. 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:

  1. Prophecy
  2. Ministry
  3. Teaching
  4. Exhortation
  5. Giving
  6. Leading
  7. Compassion

As swans are one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures on earth, they would seem to be a perfect symbol for spiritual gifts.

8. Eight Maids-a-Milking

As Christ came to save even the lowest of the low, this gift represents the ones who would receive his word and accept his grace. Being a milkmaid was about the worst job one could have in England during this period; this code conveyed that Jesus cared as much about servants as he did those of royal blood. The Eight Maids represent the 8 Beatitudes, from Matthew 5:3-10:

Blessed are…

  1. the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Those who mourn:  for they shall be comforted.
  3. The meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  4. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:  for they shall be filled.
  5. The merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
  6. The pure in heart: for they shall see God.
  7. The peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
  8. They which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

9. Nine Ladies Dancing

These nine dancers were really the gifts known as the fruit of the Spirit. The Fruits of the Spirit include:

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Patience
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-control

10. Ten Lords a-leaping

This is probably the easiest gift to understand. As lords were judges and in charge of the law, this code for the Ten Commandments was fairly straightforward to Christians.

  1. Thou shall have no other gods before me
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy
  5. Honor thy father and mother
  6. Thou shalt not kill
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
  8. Thou shalt not steal
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
  10. Thou shalt not covet

11. Eleven Pipers Piping

This is almost a trick question, as most think of the disciples in terms of the dozen. But when Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, only eleven men carried out the gospel message. Therefore, the Eleven Pipers Piping signify the 11 Faithful Disciples:

  1. Simon (whom He named Peter)
  2. Andrew
  3. James
  4. John
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew
  7. Matthew
  8. Thomas
  9. James, son of Alphaeus
  10. Simon, who was called the Zealot
  11. Judas, son of James
  12. Judas Iscariot was later replaced with faithful Matthias.

12. Twelve Drummers Drumming

The final gift is tied directly to the Catholic Church. The drummers are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed.

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
  4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
  5. He descended into hell. On the third day, He rose again.
  6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
  7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and the life everlasting.

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