The Twelve Days of Christmas is Not When You Think

During the past few weeks, almost every store I visit or any radio station I listen to is playing the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I’ve heard this song so many times and seen so many Twelve Days of Christmas sale promotions, I have never questioned when these days occur. But what if I told you The Twelve Days of Christmas are not when you think they are?

I may sound like I am kidding, but The Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days after Christmas, not before. Yes, you read that correctly, the twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas day! Feel free to blame that well known Christmas carol I referred to above for creating years of confusion.

This Song is Misleading

Originally this British children’s song began as a memory-and-forfeit game. The rules of the game were simple: each child took a turn recalling the verses the previous child sung, then they added a new verse to the end. If a child forgot a verse, they had to pay a forfeit that typically involved kissing or giving the other children candy. So what does this odd repetitive jingle about rings, geese and milking maids have to do with the days leading up to January 6th?

Well, one theory is the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was created by Catholics between 1558-1829. Since it was a crime to be a Catholic in Anglican England, many believe the song was created as a coded way for Catholics to learn the catechism (a summary of the principles of the Catholic religion). This idea was debunked by David Mikkelson for Snopes. In case you are curious, here’s David’s translation of the supposed symbolism:

  • Partridge in a Pear Tree =  Jesus Christ, the Son of God
  • Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
  • 2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
  • 3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
  • 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
  • 8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
  • 9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • 10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
  • 11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
  • 12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

The Real Meaning of The Twelve Days of Christmas

Now that we have cleared up when these twelve days are, you are probably still confused why the twelve days are not the days leading up to Christmas? Are you ready to find out what the song is actually referring to? I thought so! The Twelve days of Christmas is the time period between the birth of Christ on December 25th and the coming of the Magi (also known as the three wise men), the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day on January 6th.

So, while you are ringing in the New Year, impress your friends with this tantalizing carol trivia! And remember to bring a gift for your party hostess or host. We’ve been told these gift baskets make the perfect New Year’s party gifts!