This is my annual reminder that the 12 Days of Christmas are not the 12 days prior to (and including) Christmas Day. Rather, they are 12 days after, running from either December 25th to January 5th or from December 26th to January 6th, depending to which tradition one follows. Either way, the 12 days take us to Epiphany (January 6th), which is when the Wise Men present gifts to the infant Jesus, although he may have been as old as 2-years when they finally track him down (which is why Wise Men shouldn't be in Nativity scenes until Epiphany -- but, of course, most have been taken down by then).
When most of us think about "The 12 Days of Christmas," however, we usually think about the song. The song's origins are unclear, but one story, which has little historical support but's fun to consider, claims that the song originated as a Roman Catholic "Catechism Song" during a time when Catholicism was "strongly discouraged" in England (1558-1829):
- The "true love" in the song refers to God, while the "me" refers to those who receive the gifts mentioned in the song from God
- The "partridge in a pear tree" refers to Jesus Christ whose death on a tree (i.e., the cross) was a gift from God
- The "two turtle doves" refer to the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God
- The "three French hens" refer to "faith," "hope" and "love" three gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13)
- The "four calling birds" refer to the four Gospels, which sing "the song of salvation through Jesus Christ"
- The "five golden rings" refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Torah.
- The "six geese a-laying" refer to the six days of creation
- The "seven swans a swimming" refer to the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
- The "eight maids a milking" refer to the eight beatitudes
- The "nine ladies dancing" refer to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- The "ten lords a-leaping" refer to the Ten Commandments
- The "eleven pipers piping" refer to the eleven faithful disciples
- The "twelve drummers drumming" refer to the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed