In Ireland the 12 Days of Christmas
is more than just a Christmas carol.

Until recently, whenever I heard or sang the popular Christmas carol "The 12 days of Christmas", I thought the lyrics were quite peculiar. But now I know that that seemingly simple holiday carol has long been a solemn hymn in Ireland.

"The 12 Days of Christmas" was originally published as a Christmas Carol in 1780. But some say its origins go all the way back to the 16th century when Catholicism was banned in England and Ireland.

It was a time when Catholics of the British Isles needed the French Catholics to help them find ways to teach their faith to the little ones in secret. Using an old French children's song, "the 12 Days of Christmas" was born.

During the time when practicing the Catholic faith in Ireland could get you thrown in jail (or even executed!), this song was a way for people, especially youngsters, to learn and remember their faith through song, without letting English onlookers know they were singing about their faith.

The gifts in the song are symbolic of specific beliefs in the Catholic faith and "my true love" represents God.

Fantasy Ireland Celtic Knot Divider

So what did those silly-sounding
Christmas gifts symbolize?

  • The twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

  • The eleven pipers piping symbolize the eleven faithful apostles.

  • The ten lords a-leaping symbolize the Ten Commandments.

  • The nine ladies dancing symbolize the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (sometimes also listed as the nine classifications of angels).

  • The "eight maids a-milking" symbolize the eight Beatitudes.

  • The "seven swans a-swimming" symbolize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven Sacraments.

  • The "six geese a-laying" symbolize the six days of creation.

  • The "five golden rings" symbolize the first five books of the Old Testament, better known in the Catholic Faith as the Pentateuch.

  • The "four calling birds" symbolize the four Gospels...Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

  • The "three French hens" symbolize Faith, Hope and Charity, the three greatest theological virtues.

  • The "two turtle doves" symbolize the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible

  • And "a partridge in a pear tree" symbolizes the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

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Fantasy Ireland is created by
Deborah A. Felker
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