The True Meaning of “The 12 Days of Christmas”


The following article appeared in my hometown newspaper, The Daily Commercial, on Sunday, December 27, 1998, and was written by Marci Elliot, and copied here with her permission.

The real Christmas began Friday

Merry Christmas, everyone. What? It’s over, you say? It ended on Friday, Christmas Day?

No, no, no. The Christmas that ended Friday was the commercial christmas.

The Real Christmas began Friday. Today is the third day of Christmas.

People who believe in the Real Christmas understand this, of course. The rest of you have me to explain it, so hold on. Here’s my Real Christmas gift to you.

The 12 days of Christmas are the 12 days between Christmas Day, Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus, and the Epiphany, Jan. 6, the day Christians celebrate the arrival of the magi and the revelation of Christ as the light of the world.

The Christmas song, “The 12 Days of Christmas” may sound silly and contrived to many of us. But it actually had its origins in religious symbolism – and with a serious purpose.

Here’s the background: From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to worship and practice their faith openly. The song, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” was written by one of them as a kind of secret catechism they could sing in public without getting persecuted.

The song has two levels of interpretation – the surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church. Each element is a code word for a religion reality.

The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus.

The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds are the four Gospels.

The five gold rings recall the Hebrew Torah (Law), or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.

The seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

Eleven pipers piping represent the 11 faithful Apostles.

Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.

If you think Jesus being symbolized as a partridge in a pear tree sounds blasphemous, listen to this: He is represented as a mother partridge in memory of His sadness over the fate of Jerusalem in the verse, Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..(Luke
13: 34 and Matthew 23: 34).

The “true love” in the song refers to God Himself. The “me” receiving the gifts is every baptized person, i.e., the church.

Now you know.

So that “silly” song we sing at Christmas time has more meaning than we thought. Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, the persecutors never caught on.

They never knew it was a religious song used to serve as a memory aid to teach religion.

As a matter of fact, the song’s message was rather ecumenical – so Catholics could even claim to be Protestant if by some chance they were cornered by the authorities.

The point here is that Christmas has just begun. There really are 12 days of Christmas, partridges or not. So have a happy, merry, meaningful Christmas.

And may you all receive lots of real “gifts” from your real True Love.

— Author Unknown

NOTE: Since sending this out I have discovered that this is an “Urban Legend”. To read more about it, see:

To research if a story you received is an urban legend, go to: