The holidays are here! One fun aspect of the holidays is the Christmas carols. No matter how hard you try to be a Grinch, you know at some point in the month of December, you will catch yourself singing along to a song! One that we all seem to know by heart is “The 12 Days of Christmas”. Since Allheart is kicking off a sale for the next 12 days with 12 items for sale at $12.12, it got me thinking. Where does the song come from?
Well, it turns out there is a lot of controversy on the subject. Some say it was a song designed to teach children about the Christian faith, with each line representing a tenet to remember. Others suggest the origins are political. But I’d rather take a lighter look at the song and what each gift might have symbolized during the time period in which the song was written. I have no idea why a partridge would be sitting in a pear tree! There are a many thoughts on what each element of the song mean, so I am going to tackle just a few of these.
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
First, it turns out partridges do sit in pear trees in England! Go figure! But the pear tree itself is also important. The pear often represents fertility, while the tree shows up in a Christmas tradition where a maiden walks backwards around a pear tree three times and then looks up to the branches where she will see the image of her future husband.
Two Turtle Doves
Doves are seen throughout history as a symbol of love and devotion. This may come from the fact that they mate for life. What a romantic gesture from “my true love”.
Four Calling (Colly) Birds
It turns out after all these years we have been singing the song wrong! It’s actually Four COLLY birds! Colly birds are actually blackbirds. And in the 18th century, whence this song was written, blackbirds were considered a delicacy. Remember the song, “Sing a Song of Six Pence”? Well, there were 24 blackbirds baked in a pie. Quite the status symbol back in the day!
Five Golden Rings
Once again, this probably doesn’t represent what you think it does! The five golden rings are meant to represent the 5 golden rings on a pheasant’s neck. Again with the birds! Pheasants were another sign of high society in the 18th century however, so hopefully our singer had a big appetite!
Six Geese A-Laying
Throughout much of history Geese have been seen as protectors. In Egypt, it was believed that a mummy’s soul rose up in the form of a goose with a human head. In Rome, geese honked to warn the Romans that the barbarians were nearing.
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Like with the geese, swans have a long history in mythology. Their ability to both swim and fly made many feel they had a connection to both the natural world and the supernatural. They are also a sign of royalty.
Eight Maids A-Milking
This verse refers to the sustenance provided by milk. In the Middle Ages, milk turned into cheese or butter was very important in the Winter months. Another interesting aspect of this line is “a-milking’. If a man asked a girl in the 18th century to “go a-milking” it was meant either as a marriage proposal, or a lurid invitation to intimacy. For the sake of a children’s’ song, let’s say this time the former was meant!
Nine Drummers Drumming
The nine drummers drumming could reference a few things, but my favorite option is that musicians often serenaded towns all night long during the Christmas season in
Ten Pipers Piping
In France, in the 18th century, a bagpipe of sorts, called a Musette was a popular instrument. It was a beautifully crafted and often played at 12th Night celebrations.
Eleven Ladies Dancing
Again, the 12th Night celebrations often included dances. These dances were called caroles, which is eventually where we get the term Christmas Carol!
12 Lords A-Leaping
Leaping was also part of 18th century celebrations. Leaping dances were supposed to be good luck for corn crops, because the height of the leap was said to determine the height of the corn. Lords a-leaping is also believed to refer to Morris dancers that would perform in elaborate costumes between food courses at Christmas feasts.
All in all, it sounds to me like our singer was asked on a wonderful date to a 12th Night feast! It certainly would have been quite a night!
Now don’t forget to check out the Allheart 12 Days of Christmas sale! Perhaps you can create your own version of the song for a nurse in your life!