‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ steeped in Catholic symbolism
Catholic News Agency
The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol.
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 the Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality that the children could remember.
To fit the number scheme, when you reach number nine, representing the Fruits of the Holy Ghost, the originator combined six to make three, taking the six fruits that were similar: the fruit in each parenthesis (below) was not named separately. There are actually Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost.
The “True Love” one hears in the song is not a smitten boy or girl, but Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. The partridge in the pear tree also represents Jesus because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators.
According to Ann Ball in her book, “Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals”:
• The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
• The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.
• The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
• The five golden rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe the human race’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.
• The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
• Seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
• The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.
• Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity].
• The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
• The eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful Apostles.
• The twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.
Original Source: Father Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, Nebraska