There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled a lot of people. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge in the pear tree have to do with Christmas?
For almost 300 years, from 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to openly practice their faith. During this era, the carol, Twelve Days of Christmas, was written as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning that was known only to members of the church. Each element in the carol was a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ.
Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
The five golden rings recall the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit:
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
The ten lords a-leaping are the ten commandments.
The eleven pipers piping stands for the eleven faithful disciples.
The twelve drummers drumming symbolizes the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and wanted to share it with you. Now we know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol.