The Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” may have a significant meaning for Catholics than what the song actually reveals. The twelve days of Christmas ends with the Epiphany of the Lord when the three wise men visit the baby Jesus, however the song itself may have actually been created as a tool to teach young Catholic children the faith centuries ago. Or was it?
Advent prepares Catholics for the birth of Jesus on December 25, but many are not aware that the Christmas Season of the Liturgical or Catholic calendar year lasts until February 2. Most Catholics do not continue the Christmas celebration until then, but rather culminate the merriment with the Epiphany of the Lord.
The Epiphany of the Lord, or the revelation of Jesus Christ to mankind with the visitation of the three kings, is generally referred to as Little Christmas, the day most Catholics take down the holiday’s decorations.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is the time between Christmas and the Epiphany, made famous by the Christmas carol. However, an interesting bit of information, be it myth or fact is the reason the song was created.
In 1995, Father Hal Stockert, a Byzantine Catholic priest from Granville, New York made some interesting claims regarding the “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol. Although, the priest noted that the facts were unavailable to validate his theory, because at the time the song was written, anything laying claim to the Catholic faith led to imprisonment or death, the history he unveiled is quite interesting.
According to Father Stockert, during the years 1558 to 1829, Catholicism was outlawed in England and the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written as a catechism song to teach young Catholics the doctrines of the faith. The gifts given out within the Christmas carol had specific meanings within the Catholic religion.
- A Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God
- Two turtledoves are the Old and New Testament.
- Three French hens are Faith, Hope and Charity (three theological virtues).
- Four collie birds (blackbirds; often mispronounced as “calling birds”) are the four Gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John.
- Five golden rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament.
- Six geese a-laying are the six days of creation.
- Seven swans a-swimming signify the seven sacraments of Catholicism.
- Eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.
- Nine ladies dancing represent the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
- Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
- Eleven pipers piping are the 11 faithful disciples, minus Judas.
- Twelve drummers drumming signify the 12 points of doctrine within the Apostle’s Creed.
David Emery admonished Father Stockert’s proposal in Snopes.com finding no evidence to back up the priest’s theory stating that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was probably more of “modern day speculation than historical fact.” Father Stockert eventually added a P.S to his article encouraging Catholics to keep their faith alive.
Regardless of what facts or myths are behind Father Stockert’s “Twelve Days of Christmas” theory, the story is still quite fascinating and with so many forgetting the importance of keeping Christ in Christmas, the carol itself can still be used as a teaching tool for Catholic children in understanding the twelve days of Christmas, the time between the Nativity and the Epiphany of the Lord.
Sources: Catholicism/About.com, Catholicism/About.com, Catholic Information Network, Snopes.com and Wikipedia.
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