Today Todd and I talked about a somewhat mysterious Christmas Carol, The 12 days of Christmas!
Here is what we talked about:
What are the 12 days of Christmas?
The 12 days of Christmas is the period that in Christian theology marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men. It begins on December 25 and runs through January 6. The four weeks preceding Christmas are collectively known as Advent, which begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on December 24.
The history of the carol is somewhat murky. The earliest known version first appeared in a 1780 children’s book called Mirth With-out Mischief. Some historians think the song could be French in origin, but most agree it was designed as a “memory and forfeits” game, in which singers tested their recall of the lyrics and had to award their opponents a “forfeit” — a kiss or a favor of some kind — if they made a mistake.
Many variations of the lyrics have existed at different points. Some mention “bears a-baiting” or “ships a-sailing”; some name the singer’s mother as the gift giver instead of their true love. Early versions list four “colly” birds, an archaic term meaning black as coal (blackbirds, in other words). And some people theorize that the five gold rings actually refer to the markings of a ring-necked pheasant, which would align with the bird motif of the early verses.
In any case, the song most of us are familiar with today comes from an English composer named Frederic Austin; in 1909, he set the melody and lyrics (including changing “colly” to “calling”) and added as his own flourish the drawn-out cadence of “five go-old rings.”
The song is not a coded primer on Christianity
A popular theory that’s made the internet rounds is that the lyrics to “The 12 Days of Christmas” are coded references to Christianity; it posits that the song was written to help Christians learn and pass on the tenets of their faith while avoiding persecution. Under that theory, the various gifts break down as follows, as the myth-debunking website Snopes explained:
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch,” which gives the history of man’s fall from grace.
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
The partridge in the pear tree, naturally, represents Jesus Christ.
If you want some more information on the 12 days of Christmas, like how much it would cost to buy all of these items, click HERE.
We played the WNZR Christmas gift exchange and had two lucky people pick a present from under our tree! Click HERE if you want to know more.
Here was today’s Trivia question:
Question: What Christmas decoration was originally made from strands of silver?