Dec 16, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Twelve Days of Christmas

XRF 12days.jpg
Image from Wikipedia

I've always though "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was a bit weird (who gives someone eight maids a-milking for Christmas? Must be a bit nuts...), but then I discovered that it's actually a children's memory game, where the days stand for the twelve days of celebrating from Christmas day until Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas celebrations. Some think that the gifts have significance as to the sports played in each month of the year, or maybe it's a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith.

So, here we go:

1. A partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus Christ, because the bird is willing to sacrifice itself to draw away predators from its young. (The "true love" in the song also represents Christ.)

2. Two turtle doves refer to the New and Old Testament

3. Three french hens stand for faith, hope, and love

4. Four calling birds are the four gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John

5. Five golden rings mean the five books of the Old Testament

6. Six geese a-laying refer to the six days of creation

7. Seven swans a-swimming are the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy)

8. Eight maids a-milking refer to the eight beatitudes (Eight blessings from The Sermon on the Mount. The word 'beautitude' comes from Latin beātitūdō, which means happiness.)

9. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the holy spirit (Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, and Chastity.)

10. Ten lords a-leaping stand for the ten commandments

11. Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful apostles

12.Twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of believe in the Apostles' creed

Makes much more sense now.


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