The Twelve Days of Christmas – Epiphany

Ornament by my husband David

Memories flash back to elementary school when in fourth grade we sang The Twelve Days of Christmas, Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and many more.  Before vacation we would sing these songs, make ornaments and exchanged gifts.  It was all part of the anticipation of celebrating Christmas with our families.  One song that stands out as I hung ornaments this year was the Twelve Days of Christmas.

There is an interesting background as to what this song means.  Yet, if we were asked what we thought about the five gold ring, we would just smile and giggle thinking it was a Christmas love song, where someone was going to get a new diamond ring for Christmas.  I remember as we sang the song, that every time we came to five golden rings we would all smile and hold onto the “five” before completing that segment.   As far as I understood it, when I was a child, was a song that was made up in fun with a romantic twist.

In reality, The Twelve Days of Christmas had a purpose in its writing.  This song was actually written in England, in the 1800’s, as a memory aid for Catholic students to learn the tenets of their faith.  Between the mid 1500- to early1800’s it was against English law for Catholics to opening practice their faith.  The memory aid allowed Christians to share their faith openly with others.  The twelve days, represents the twelve days between the birth of Jesus to the day when the Magi arrived and presented their gifts to the Christ child.

As a partridge would protect their young, bearing the burden of harm to protect her nestlings within the tree, the “partridge in a pear tree” symbolically represents Jesus Christ, in memory of His sadness over the fate of Jerusalem.  Christ is the protector of all His followers, who bore the burden of all man’s sin while taking our place upon the cross (tree) for all those who believed through baptism.

The two turtle doves represent the old and new testament.  As mentioned in an earlier blog post of mine, two turtle doves represent a connective bond with each other.  It is a “symbol of love, friendship and devotion.  They will stay together for a lifetime…”

Three French Hens are about the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.  Moral excellence and goodness.  Our faith allows us to believe in God and in all that He has revealed to us through scripture and biblical teachings.  Hope is our steadfast trust as we wait on God for His grace for our eternal life.  With charity, with our first love being God, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, as a reflection of our love for God.  For if we can love ourselves, we have the ability to love others in a compassionate and God loving way.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the four evangelists, also the four gospels, are represented by the four calling birds.  The four evangelists shared the gospel of Christ with all those who would listen.

The first five books of the old testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are the five golden rings.  These are the “Pentateuch”, also known as the books of law, as they contain the laws and instruction given by God  through Moses to the people of Israel.  The foundation of the coming Christ are found in these books, teaching us of how God chooses Israel to bring about as a nation that would become the custodians of the Old Testament, who receive the convenants of promise, through our Messiah, Christ Jesus.  We also read about the history of man’s fall from grace in these chapters of the bible.

The six geese a laying represents the six days of creation from Genesis 1:1-2:2:
First day the heavens and earth were formed, along with the provision of light and darkness.  On the 2nd day of creation God created the expanse of Heaven with the provision of evening and morning followed by the third day where God separated the waters (seas) from the earth’s dry land.  On day four the sun, moon and stars were provided for the day and evening lights in the sky.  On the next day, God filled the waters with living creatures and birds in the air.  The animals of the land as well as humans were added to His creation on day six, his final day of creation.  And, finally on day seven, God rested, which is why we choose one day a week for worship.

The eight beatitudes are represented by the eight-maids-a-milking found in Matthew 5:3-10

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
  3. Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice:  for they shall have their fill.
  5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
  6. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
  8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The nine ladies dancing depict the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit, found in Galations 5:22 are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.

The ten Lords a Leaping are speaking of the Ten Commandments which are found in Exodus 20:1- 17

  1. You shall have no other Gods before Me
  2. You must not make for yourself an idol
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet

The eleven Pipers Piping are the eleven faithful apostles are eleven of the twelve disciples:  Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon the Sealot and Judas bar James

And finally as we come to the twelve drummers dancing, the song speaks of the twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed that are said frequently by Catholics and less frequently by protestant faiths yet are currently known as the Nicene Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]
On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father
He will come again to judge the living and the dead
I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy catholic Church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting.

May the next time you sing this song, or as you go along the next few days through January 6th, you find blessing in the words and each day that is represented.



2 responses to “The Twelve Days of Christmas – Epiphany

  1. Hi Laura.
    Amazing your story I am glad for your research. I was raised Catholic but of course living in Puerto Rico we did not sing english carols very often…LOL So the first time I heard this song was when I joined the Army and came to the states, but never dreamed the song had a meaning just thought it was a cute thing and to this day I have a hard time remembering what each number is…LOL.
    Now what amazed me the most was your explanation of how it means the 12 days between Chistmas and when the Magi (Los Tres Reyes Magos in Puerto Rico) went to visit the baby Jesus.
    I now have a story to tell you. When I was growing up Santa didnt exist in Puerto Rico Christmas was what it is supposed to be the Birth of our dear Savior so all attention was focused on Him.
    Now Epiphany (Your 12th day) was something else. On the evening of January 5th (your 11th day) children (even to this day) go outside carrying shoe boxes in which they put grass then before they go to bed they placed the box with the grass under their bed. Sometime before morning Los Tres Reyes Magos stop by each Puerto RIcan child’s house where the camels eat the grass and as a way to say thank you, Los Reyes leave the child a present (I dont know about now, but as a child we and I meant 99% of the children in PR got roller skates, you know not the ones with the boots attached but the metal ones with the key).
    I raised Angie and Michelle with that tradition and now Angie is raising the kids with the same tradition. On Christmas day they were already looking forward to like my girls and they say Three Kings Day. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
    The memories are very fond, I would say the only nice memories I have of my childhood because my abuela (grandmother) was always involved.
    So now you have more knowledge about the 12 days of Christmas. Hope you enjoy it.
    Shhhhh I already have the presents for Angie, Michelle and the kids. Yes even Angie and Michelle because it doesnt matter ow old you are as long as you are Puerto Rican….LOL

    • Maria, thank you for sharing your childhood memories. Our memories are what fill our hearts.
      All because of my learning about turtle doves, I felt there had to be more to the meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas, hence my need to research it more deeply. Every song has meaning to the writer. In this song, I was moved that Christians chose a method in which they could still remember what they were taught, as well as teach each generation there after.
      The Christ child, Santa, and other family traditions are what bring fond memories to surface. Allowing time to focus on Jesus and why He was born, allows our hearts to open up with love and appreciation..

Feel free to leave your reflective thoughts