The 12 Days of Christmas ~ What They Really Mean

I originally posted this last year right before Christmas and I love it so much and find it incredibly interesting that I decided to share this post with you again. So if you missed this one last year here is your chance to read it now!

I am sure you all know the Christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas", but have you ever wondered why it was written or what the 12 days represent?
Well for me the question was answered when I began teaching Religious Education to my first group of fourth graders two years ago. According to the text provided me by our church for teaching purposes, in 16th century England Catholics were imprisoned and even put to death if they tried to practice their faith. It is said that two Jesuit priest came up with the carol  in which they devised a code for the basic truths of the Catholic faith.

They go as follows...

"On the first day of Christmas", as the song began, "my true love sent to me", which meant God was speaking to them.

The first gift was "A Partridge in a Pear Tree"...this image represents Jesus Christ the King reigning from the cross.

"Two Turtle Doves" is the code for the Old and New Testaments of the holy Bible.

The "Three French Hens" meant the three gifts of the magi...gold, frankincense and myrrh.


"Four Calling Birds" symbolizes the four gospels of the bible...Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The "Five Golden Rings" represent the first five books of the Bible...Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

"Six Geese a-Laying" equals the six precepts of the Catholic church.

1. To hear mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.

2. To confess sins at least once a year.

3. To receive holy communion once a year, during the Easter season.

4. To keep holy the Holy Days of Obligation

5. To observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence from meat

6. To provide for the material needs of the church to the best of an individual's abilities 

The "Seven Swans a Swimming" represent the Seven Sacraments. Baptism, Confession of Sins, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick

"Eight Maids a Milking" signify the 8 Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
fo they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 "Nine Ladies Dancing" are the nine choirs of angels.

Seraphim ~ Love angels of the purest love

Cherubim ~ Protectors of the inner chamber of divinity

Throne ~ the Angels of pure humility

Dominions ~ Angels of Leadership

Powers ~ Warrior Angels

Virtues ~ Governs all nature

Principalities ~ Administrative Angels

Archangels ~ Emissaries of the Principalities

Angels ~ The Angels closest to the material world and human beings. They act as messengers by delivering our prayers to God and bringing God's answer and other messages to us.

"Ten Lords a Leaping"  are the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

1. Thou shall have no other god before me

2. Thou shall not take the lord's name in vain

3. Thou shall keep the Sabbath day holy

4. Thou shall honor thy father and mother

5. Thou shall not kill

6. Thou shall not commit adultery

7 Thou shall not steal

8. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor

9.Thy shall not covet thy neighbor's wife

10. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods

The "Eleven Pipers Piping"  stood for the eleven Apostles after Judas' death. The eleven names of the apostles are...Simon Peter, Andrew, James the son of Zebedee, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alephaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot.

And finally the "Twelve Drummers Drumming" represent the 12 basic beliefs of the Catholic church named in the Apostle's Creed.

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord

3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary

4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died and was buried: He descended into hell

5. The third day he rose again from the dead

6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty

7. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead

8. I believe in the Holy Ghost

9. I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints

10. The forgiveness of sins

1l. The resurrection of the body

12. And the life everlasting. Amen

Merry Christmas!!


  1. BARBARA! I did NOT see this last year. Thank you for the lesson. I never knew there was a "history" like that behind that song. Amazing, isn't it? It reminds me of the nursery rhymes and their hidden meanings, too. I am delighted to know about the song and I am going to pass it along to my Grandchildren. They attend a parochial school and I wonder if it has ever been taught there. Thanks so much! xo Diana

  2. Love this song and the stiory behind it. Are you getting lots of snow there? We have several inches and it is bitterly cold. xo

  3. I am 59 years old and I never knew about the story behind the song. Thanks for posting about it.

  4. That was fascinating! I love the art that goes with the song, too!

  5. Beautiful post Barbara!! Loved learning the lesson behind the song!


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