We all know the Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas . . .

The Twelve Days of Christmas is believed to be of French origin and used in England during a time of religious persecution when Catholicism was outlawed in the 16th to 18th centuries. The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was written as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without fear of arrest – a learning or memory aid to Christians in fact. Each verse refers to a teaching of church doctrine — with the partridge being Christ who died on a tree and the “True Love” being God the Father, who gave us all gifts. The twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days between Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, the birth of Jesus, and the Epiphany, Jan. 6th, the day Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi (Wise Men) and the revelation of Christ as the light of the world.

Each element in the song is a code word for religious truth:

  1. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus.
  2. The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.
  3. Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
  4. The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
  5. The five gold rings recall the Hebrew Torah (Law), or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
  6. The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
  7. The seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
  8. The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.
  9. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
10. The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles.
12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.

Contributed by Andre Du Mont

The Yuletide Season of the 18th Century

Beginning with lighting the large decorated yule log in the hearth on Christmas Eve, the celebrations of Christ’s birth begins. This log would be kept burning throughout the season. Its remains and ashes collected at the end of the tide, Twelfth Night, and saved for next year’s lighting and for its magical properties to ward off misfortunes and house fires.

Christmas Day, a humble and pious day, was spent devoutly attending church service in praise of the birth of our savior.

The devotional side of Christmastide was far overshadowed by New Years, the balls, fox hunts, horse races, lavish suppers, firing of Christmas guns (bursts of joy to your far off neighbors), and indubitably, Twelfth Night.

And for the students, your teachers would be ceremoniously barred out of the classroom for the festive period.

In a primarily agricultural society, this time of the year was left with more free time and the excuse for entertaining. Like today, the season was used to visit with friends and family.
The Twelfth Night holiday brought families together from great distances and provided a convenient setting for family weddings as for George and Martha Washington.

Twelfth Night reigned in the presentation of Christ to the Magi (The Epiphany). The culmination of revelry was to end with a final frenzy of feasting, drinking and often-raucous merry making before the community returned to its daily working grind for the rest of the winter.

Contributed by Andre Du Mont


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Last updated on December 4, 2017.

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