The Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas Song


We have all heard the Christmas Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” There is a story floating about the internet and other venues that the song has its roots in 18th-century England, as a memory-and-forfeit game sung by British children. In the game, players had to remember all of the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, in the form of a kiss or a piece of candy to the others.

One theory, however, connects the carol to the era when Catholicism was outlawed in England, from 1558 and 1829. The carol is said to be a catechism song for Catholics to learn “the tenets of their faith,” as they could not openly practice in Anglican society.

Today, each gift in the song represents a hidden meaning relevant to the Christian faith. Every time I hear the song I try to remember the meaning of each gift. They are:

A partridge in a pear tree – Jesus Christ

2 Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments 

3 French Hens – Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues 

4 Calling Birds – the Four Gospels

5 Golden Rings – The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch” 

6 Geese A-laying – the six days of creation

7 Swans A-swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

8 Maids A-milking – the eight beatitudes 

9 Ladies Dancing – the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit 

10 Lords A-leaping – the ten commandments 

11 Pipers Piping – the eleven faithful apostles 

12 Drummers Drumming – the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

But…if you check this story is probably not true. The origins of “The Twelve Days of Christmas Song” is unknown.

Why not let it become true today? Someone took the time to assign a particular point of the Christian faith to each gift mentioned in the song, and the story has been circulating for years. It must be meaningful to a lot of people. The new meaning of the lyrics may not be steeped in history, but we can change something and made it good. The lyrics are twisted around for other purposes,  such as advertising, why not change the meaning of the verses and use it for good?

Music has a way of stirring up memories and emotions. As for me, I will continue to enjoy the myth, sing and remember all that my great God has given to us, not just for 12 days, but for every day.

James 1:17 (CEB)

Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.

6 thoughts on “The Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas Song

  1. I love this story. I had never heard it before but that song will never mean quite the same to me again. Instead of trying to figure how much it would cost to buy those things for my true love, I’ll be happy to thank my True Love for what he’s given me through his Son. Thanks for sharing this and may you and your loved ones enjoy the blessings of celebrating Christ’s birth.

    • I remember the first time I heard the story, I knew I would always view the song in a different light. Even if the story isn’t true, the modern story is a great way to count the many blessings God has given us. May you and your family enjoy the rich blessings of this joyous season too.

  2. FANTASTIC! True or not, we KNOW Christmas IS or at least SHOULD BE about Christ. This description provides a good way to deepen the meaning not just at Christmas but all year!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s