The Twelve Days of Christmas

In my humble opinion the most annoying Christmas song of all time is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The best part of that song is there is no thirteenth day. However, as annoying as it may be, there are few traditional Christmas carols that have the background story of this infamous ballad.

Believe it or not, there is incredible debate on the factuality of the story behind the song. Some say it is historical, others say it is completely false, and others take the middle road – there are some facts and some falsehoods in the story; more than likely the story is a mixture of facts, legends, and urban myths. Regardless of the origin and its accuracy, they story is interesting.

First the facts:

In church tradition there are twelve days of Christmas. These twelve days are not counted before Christmas, but after Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas begin Christmas day and count until January 5th (January 6th is the beginning of Epiphany). Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Wise Men and their presentation of gifts to the Jesus child (Matthew 2:1-12). Many cultures around the world call January 6th “Three Kings Day” (or “Day of the Kings”) and exchange gifts then. Other cultures open one gift a day through the twelve days of Christmas. Those who do practice and observe this tradition celebrate twelve full days of Christmas, not just one. The end of the twelfth day is marked with a big meal and the removing of the Christmas decorations.

And now the song:

More than likely the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written for children and secular in origin. However, some people believe (and this is where the debate centers) that the song was written in secret code, teaching
people the basics of the Christian faith during the 16th century religious wars of England. (If you are interested in digging deeper into the controversy, just google the song and you will get more information than you need.)

For those who do believe the song was meant for Christian instruction, or for those (like me) who just like a good story, the familiar phrase, “true love” is not an earthly suitor, but God Himself. The “me” who receives gifts
from the Suitor, refers to all baptized believers. Each “day” represents a key teaching of the church.

Beginning Christmas Day, and continuing through January 5th, I plan to post each day about the gift for that day and the possible corresponding Christian teaching. I hope you will enjoy these twelve posts and share them with others. Feel free to comment about things (fact or fiction) you have heard about this song.

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4 thoughts on “The Twelve Days of Christmas

  1. I guess I just like songs that go on and on, like “The Hole in the Middle of the Ground,” or “The Wheels on the Bus.” From a kid I always liked the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered the tradition about the Christian symbolism. I look forward to your blogs. Merry Christmas!

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