History, and Meaning, of Beloved Christmas Carol

The twelve days of Christmas refers to the twelve days of feasting and celebration originally designated in the sixth century as a time to commemorate the incarnation of Christ (Dec. 25 – Jan. 5).  In the sixteenth century, Roman Catholics were being persecuted in England, and it was illegal for them to practice or express their faith in public.  If caught with materials of the Christian faith in public, the “criminal” was subject to imprisonment or death.  This song materialized as a coded message announcing belief in both Christ and the Bible.  I think we all know who the “True Love” is.  The hidden meanings behind this classic Christmas Carol are listed below.

The First Day of Christmas:  The “Partridge in a Pear Tree” represents the birth of Christ on Christmas Day.  Christ is portrayed as a partridge because of the instinctual habit of mother partridges to pretend to be injured in order to decoy predators away from their helpless young.

The Second Day of Christmas:  “Two Turtle Doves” refers to the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Third Day of Christmas:  “Three French Hens” stands for the three virtues written about in1 Corinthians 13:13 – Faith, Hope, and Love.

The Fourth Day of Christmas:  “Four Calling Birds” symbolizes the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Fifth Day of Christmas:  “Five Golden Rings” points to the first five books of the Old Testament – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Sixth Day of Christmas:  “Six Geese a-Laying” stands for the six days of creation and the affirmation that Almighty God is the creator and sustainer of all things.

The Seventh Day of Christmas:  “Seven Swans a-Swimming” represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Romans 11: (1) Prophecy, (2) Ministry, (3) Teaching, (4) Exhortation, (5) Giving and Generosity, (6) Leadership, and (7) Compassion and Mercy.

The Eighth Day of Christmas:  “Eight Maids a-Milking” stands for the eight Beatitudes Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (See Matt. 5) each beginning with “Blessed are”: (1) the Poor in Spirit, (2) those who Mourn, (3) the Meek, (4) those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, (5) the Merciful, (6) the Pure in heart, (7) the Peacemakers, and (8) those who are Persecuted for Righteousness sake.

The Ninth Day of Christmas:  “Nine Ladies Dancing” represents the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  (1) Love, (2) Joy, (3) Peace, (4) Forbearance, (5) Kindness, (6) Goodness, (7) Faithfulness, (8) Gentleness and (9) Self-control.

The Tenth Day of Christmas:  “Ten Lords a-Leaping” symbolizes the Ten Commandments (See Exodus 20:1-17).

The Eleventh Day of Christmas:  “Eleven Pipers Piping” refers to the eleven faithful Disciples.  Because Judas Iscariot, the twelfth Disciple, betrayed Jesus he is not included among the faithful.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas:  “Twelve Drummers Drumming” emphasizes the twelve doctrinal points of the Apostles’ Creed, which outlines the core beliefs of the Christian faith.

Information for this article was obtained from Charisma Digital Magazine, most of which is a direct quote. (Bertolero, 2011, p. 14-15)


Bertolero, P. (2011, December). Decoding a Christmas Carol. Charisma Digital Magazine, 2, 14-15. Retrieved from http://strang.imirus.com/Mpowered/book/vstr11/i16/p1


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