The 12 Days Of Christmas
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The 12 Days Of Christmas

Really, what do they mean?

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The 12 Days Of Christmas
photos by John O'Brien, Jr @Jobjr

There are 12 Days Until Christmas. As the tough side of ourselves develops growing up, we often accept the cynical, as if it were cool. It is less faith, less work. The greatness of a man can nearly always be measured by his willingness to be kind. It is easy to be mean, hard to be a man. We learn that hard work teaches that rewards multiply; our view becomes more world-wise, rather than self-centric. When we take the easy way, our views narrow, and actually become more immature, self-centric feels good in the moment, but perpetuates and isolates, from God and our fellow man, long term.

Recently there has been an effort to discredit the olde catechism, or beliefs, around the meaning of The 12 Days of Christmas song. I learned the song, and the true meaning behind it, a long time ago. Bah Humbug on those who are only happy when they are unhappy, and insist on trying to take others down with them. The 12 Days of Christmas have lasted thousands of years; not going down.

Here is how I learned it, with a little broad explanation for what might be forgotten: The 12 Days of Christmas is a song of symbolism ~ little clues to help young goslings remember tenants of our Catholic faith when long ago, writing or even talking about Catholics, being Catholic or observing any Catholic rite, passage or ceremony was subject to death. It was written as a way to teach and help children remember the most important things in our faith, in a way that was safe should they run across authorities, birthed the 12 Days of Christmas song.

Many believe that these are the twelve days before Christmas, but are actually the twelve days after, from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th). Epiphany is the feast that celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through, his son, Jesus.

The song is long, but the last verse sums it up:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

12 Drummers Drumming

11 Pipers Piping

10 Lords a Leaping

9 Ladies Dancing

8 Maids a Milking

7 Swans a Swimming

6 Geese a Laying

5 Golden Rings

4 Calling Birds

3 French Hens

2 Turtle Doves

and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

The ‘True love” in the song is Jesus (On the 1st Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …)
A partridge in a pear tree – represents the mother church, which protects her young by distracting would be persecutors, murderers and those who would harm the church or her people.

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = the Theological Virtues - Faith, Hope and Charity,
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick)
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes (Jesus gave us the eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)
10 Lords A-leaping = The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, were delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They are a set of biblical principles which play a fundamental role in Judaism and Christianity. They are considered essential for spiritual good health and growth, and serve as the basis for social justice: (The 10 Commandments List, in Short Form:

  • You shall have no other gods before Me.
  • You shall not make idols.
  • You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
  • You shall not covet.

11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles:
Peter (also known as Simon Peter) Andrew (Simon Peter's brother), James son of Zebedee, John (James' brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus (Judas, son of James), Simon the Zealot.)
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.

The gift we receive, is baptism.

***

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