The Twelve Days of Christmas

Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, but were borrowed from contemporary culture by Christians as a means of worship and proclamation. This made the objects spiritually meaningful while reflecting the mood of their times. For example, did you know that even though “The Twelve Days of Christmas” sounds like an ancient pagan counting song, it’s full of biblical references? Consider these verses:

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a partridge in a pear tree.

The “true love” represents God the giver and the “me” who receives the presents is the Christian. The Partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ who died on a tree as a gift from God (Luke 13:34).

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me… two turtle doves.

The “two turtle doves” were the Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me… three French hens.

The “three French Hens” were The Three Theological Virtues: 1. Faith, 2. Hope, and 3. Love – the three gifts of Spirit that abide (1 Corinthians 13:13).

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… four calling birds.

The “four calling birds” were the four Gospels: 1. Matthew, 2. Mark, 3. Luke, and 4. John, which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ, exclaiming the Good News.

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… five golden rings.

The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Book of Moses or the Pentateuch: 1. Genesis, 2. Exodus, 3. Leviticus, 4. Numbers, and 5. Deuteronomy. These provide the historical record of God’s promise, first articulated in his covenant with Abraham, then with the people of Israel.

On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… six geese-a-laying.

The “six geese-a-laying” are the six days of creation (Genesis 1).

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… seven swans a-swimming.

The “seven swans-a-swimming” are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1. prophecy, 2. ministry, 3. teaching, 4. exhortation, 5. giving, 6. leading, and 7. compassion (1 Corinthians 12:9-11; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… eight maids a-milking.

The “eight maids-a-milking” are the eight Beatitudes (supreme blessings): 1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2. those who mourn, 3. the meek, 4. those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5. the merciful, 6. the pure in heart, 7. the peacemakers, 8. those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:3-10).

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… nine ladies dancing.

The “nine ladies dancing” are nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: 1. love, 2. joy, 3. peace, 4. patience, 5. kindness, 6. generosity, 7. faithfulness, 8. gentleness, and 9. self-control (Galatians 5:22-25).

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… ten lords a-leaping.

The “ten lords a-leaping” are the Ten Commandments: 1. You shall have no other gods before me; 2. Do not make an idol; 3. Do not take God’s name in vain; 4. Remember the Sabbath Day; 5. Honor your father and mother; 6. Do not murder; 7. Do not commit adultery; 8. Do not steal; 9. Do not bear false witness; 10. Do not covet (Exodus 20:1-17).

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… eleven pipers piping.

The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven faithful Apostles: 1. Simon Peter, 2. Andrew, 3. James, 4. John, 5. Philip, 6. Bartholomew, 7. Matthew, 8. Thomas, 9. James son of Alphaeus, 10. Simon the Zealot, 11. Judas son of James. The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor and betrayed Jesus (Luke 6:14-16).

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… twelve drummers drumming.

The “twelve drummers drumming” are the twelve points of The Apostle’s 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. He descended into hell.
  5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of power.
  6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  8. the Church,
  9. the communion of saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and life everlasting.

So the next time you hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” consider the fact that this otherwise secular-sounding song is deeply rooted in the Christian faith.

And, by the way, contrary to popular belief, this song is not referring to the twelve days before Christmas, but rather the twelve-day period between Christmas on December 25th and Epiphany on January 6th. So keep right on singing. 🙂

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