We must always remember the old adage “the victors write the history” and also what is said about a myth. A myth is not a story that is false, but one that is true in several ways. And so I believe it is with this Carol. It has some historical truth but I don’t think we can call it an ‘historical fact’. So read it with the above information in mind as it was printed on our Web Site in the 2011 Christmas season.
Christmas Carols are one of the most charming, fun, nostalgic components of the Christmas season but there’s an important history fact to one that most people, let alone Catholics, have never heard. It was recently sent to me via the Internet and I think it is so worthwhile I am printing it here in its entirety.
The 12 Days of Christmas:
A Christmas Carol History (Fact?)
There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?
This week, I found out.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
- The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
- Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
- Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
- The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
- The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
- 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–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
- The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
- The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
- The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.
So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol…so pass it on if you wish.