It is thought this carol was written for the early Roman Catholics in England at a time when they were forbidden from openly practising their religion (between 1558 and 1829, as it happens, although there is no real evidence for this of course!). The carol was created so that children could secretly learn about the Christian faith whilst just seemingly being taught a song.
The words in the carol are like a secret code, with each object relating to some belief of the Christian faith.
So, here goes:
- “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” – where ‘true love’ signifies God, the true love of the world and ‘me’ being the Christian (man or woman) who receives Gods presents;
- Partridge in a pear tree – Jesus;
- Two Turtle Doves – the 2 books of the bible – Old and New Testaments;
- Three French Hens – the Holy Trinity – the 3-in-1 – God, the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit;
- Four Calling Birds – are the 4 Gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John);
- Five Gold Rings – are the first five books of the Bible called the Pentateuch or the Book of Moses or the Torah;
- Six Geese-a-Laying – represent the 6 days it took God to create the world (if you believe that of course!);
- Seven Swans-a-Swimming – are the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit which are – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord;
- Eight Maids-a-Milking – are the 8 Beatitudes Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount – Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness – and not a cheesemaker amongst them (for all you Monty Python fans!)
- Nine Ladies Dancing – are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit, where the fruit symbolises the 9 visible attributes of a true Christian life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;
- Ten Lords-a-Leaping – the 10 Commandments;
- Eleven Pipers Piping – are the 11 faithful apostles of Jesus;
- Twelve Drummers Drumming – are the 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed, this is what is generally said in church as the Nicene Creed.
From a mathematical standpoint, if you add all the presents given up you get a total of 364! 1 less than a whole year!
Which means that if the religious meaning is true and true love represents God – then He loves you every day!
May you all have a truly wonderful Christmas full of peace, love and happiness.