This is part 30 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.
A number of years ago I received an email. Now in the days of Facebook and other social media we don’t see these kinds of emails anymore. We still see these kinds of things, but these days we are more likely to see them on social media than get them through email (I do still have a friend or two who still send me these things for email).
The email was an interesting presentation of the story behind the Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” When I read the email I thought, “That is a really interesting take on what is otherwise a silly Christmas carol.” Because I have been using Facebook for around ten years and haven’t forwarded emails during that time, I honestly don’t remember if I forwarded it to anyone or not. This is an approximation of what the email said:
Beginning in the sixteenth century, British Catholics were forbidden by law from practicing their faith. They were not allowed to share these ideas, to write them down or teach them to children. Both the giver and the recipient of the information were accountable and in extreme cases death was possible. As with early Christianity, this persecution forced Roman Catholic faith underground. To write information down required it to be written in code. One of the resulting documents used to teach children was “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Each of the seeming silly gifts sounds meaningless on the surface but according to the legend has deep spiritual significance.
The “True Love” one hears in the song is not a smitten boy or girlfriend but Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. The partridge in the pear tree also represents Him because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators.
The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love. The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The five golden rings rerepresented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.
The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit—–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy. The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity]. The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Apostles. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.
It wasn’t long after receiving the email when a link floated through my inbox to Snopes.com. It quoted the email I had received a few days before, verbatim. It went on to say the email I received was completely false. At the time, I accepted it at face value.
As I was preparing for this series, I purchased several books with stories behind the Christmas carols. Three of them had the story of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” None of them agree.
Over the course of this series I have given a great deal of importance to the two books below by Ace Collins. Imagine my shock after seeing Snopes blowing up the email several years ago, to read the same story in Ace Collins book.
What it really comes down to is, nobody really knows the story of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” For me, the story of persecuted Catholics may or may not be true. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s at this point. But what that story does give to us is this, even if it did not represent these things to Roman Catholics in 16th century England, it can be representative for us some 600 years later.
I also thought I would close with this. We may not know the story behind this carol but according to the CNBC we do know that the value (in 2014 dollars) the value of the gifts my true love gave to me is $34,131. I’m pretty sure my true love took a pass on all those gifts.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.
Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.