Today we move into Twelve Days of Christmas, often called Christmastide, the days between the Feast of the Nativity (aka "Christmas") and the day before the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany, sometimes called Little Christmas, occurs on January 6th and celebrates the Visit of the Magi to Bethlehem.
I'm sure you know the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. It starts with...
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
a partridge in a pear tree.
A couple of week ago my wife heard a story about how Catholics after the Protestant Reformation would use this song as a form of catechesis. The Catholic children could sing this song aloud in Protestant villages and cities and avoid being persecuted for espousing Catholic doctrine. According to the story the song functions as a catechesis in the following way:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree = JesusOn first glance none of this seems particularly Catholic. You get a whiff of Catholicism on the twelfth day as the catechesis of the Catholic church does break down the Apostles' Creed into twelve articles.
Two Turtle Doves = Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens = The Three Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Love)
Four Calling Birds = The Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
Five Gold Rings = The First Five Books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Six Geese A-laying = The Six Days of Creation
Seven Swans A-swimming = The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8)
Eight Maids A-milking = The Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)
Nine Ladies Dancing= The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
Ten Lords A-leaping = The Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping = The Eleven Faithful Apostles
Twelve Drummers Drumming = The Twelve Points of Doctrine in the Apostles' Creed
So, is the song The Twelve Days of Christmas a covert form of Catholic catechesis? Well, it seems that there is a lively Internet debate on the topic. Snopes.com seems to think it is a hoax. But the reasons offered by snopes do not seem to be very conclusive. Feel free to dig into the mystery yourself.
In the meantime, wishing you a happy twelve days of Christmas!