Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The Real 12 Days of Christmas
People often think of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as the days preceding the festival. Actually, Christmas is a season of the Christian Year that lasts for the twelve days beginning December 25 and lasting until January 6 - the Day of Epiphany, when the church celebrates the revelation of Christ as the Light of the world and recalls the journey of the magi.
Concerning the popular song 'the Twelve Days of Christmas,' a couple of years ago, I learned the story behind the text from an article in a church newsletter.
From 1558 until 1829 Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. During that era someone wrote 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without the risk of persecution. The song has two levels of interpretation: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church. Each element in the carol is a code word for a reality of our faith.
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ. The pear tree is a reminder of the cross.
The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments. Two great gifts which each Christian receives.
Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds are the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, which speak of Jesus.
The five gold rings recall the first five books of the Old Testament or the Torah. These books were treated by the Jews with great reverence and considered worth more than gold (Psalm 19:10).
The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation. Eggs are an almost universal symbol of new life. The laying geese God spoke the word and brought forth life.
Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8): prophesy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, mercy.
The eight maids a-milking are The eight Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:3-10) nourish us as milk does.
Nine ladies dancing? The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23): love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. Lords were men who had authority in people's lives. (Exodus 20:3-17).
Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.
Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed."