Share this story

The Gift of Christ in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’

By Michellle DiFranco | Photography By Shane Folkertsma | December 2022

The Gift of Christ in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’

We hear it every year. The lyrics can seem a bit strange. It’s repetitive.

And there are far more beautiful Christmas songs to occupy space on your holiday playlist. But did you know that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” may have a deeper symbolic meaning? That doesn’t make it any less repetitive, but it does make it more interesting!

Both religious and secular sources suggest that the song was written somewhere between the 16th and 19th centuries when Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. According to this narrative, the Christmas carol was written using secular imagery (of the time) to help catechize children in the faith. The “true love” mentioned in each verse does not refer to a smitten young man or woman, but our Lord Jesus Christ, and the “me” represents any baptized Catholic.

The “partridge in a pear tree” is also Christ, since that species of bird is willing to sacrifice its life to protect its young by faking an injury to draw predators away.

The two turtle doves stand for the Old and New Testaments. The three French hens represent faith, hope and love. The four calling birds are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The five golden rings symbolize the first five books of the Old Testament. The six geese a-laying recall for the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids a-milking signify the eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. The 10 lords a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments. The 11 pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful Apostles. The 12 drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

So in a nod to the Christian symbolism this carol represents, and to keep our focus on Christ during this holy season, we offer this “Partridge in a Pear Tree” dessert for your Christmas gatherings. Enjoy!

El regalo de Cristo en ‘Los doce días de Navidad’

Michellle Sessions DiFranco is a designer and the busy mom of three children.

¡Lee este artículo en español! (Spanish Language Version)