December 7, 2008

An Underground Catechism

Posted by Judi Lynn Lake at 13:35

The delightful, whimsical classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas" is far more than just a repetitious melody with a list of bizarre gifts. The purpose of the song, to my surprise, was actually “an underground catechism" for persecuted Catholics in England. The "Twelve Days of Christmas" are the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany (January 6th) when, it is believed, the Three Wise Men arrived upon the scene of the nativity.

The world in general celebrates Christmas for only one day, but the Church celebrates the event for twelve days because it is believed that the gift of Christ is with all people for twelve months of the year.
Between the years 1558 and 1829, it was a serious crime to be Catholic. During this time, every Catholic in England was prohibited, either privately or publicly, from practicing their faith. Without regular mass, sacraments, or catechism lessons, it was difficult for parents to teach their children about Catholicism. Thus, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was created in order to keep Catholicism alive.

The song served as a memory aid to help young Catholic children secretly learn the tenets of their faith during a time when Catholicism was unlawful and could result in either imprisonment or death. Since the words to the song appeared little more than rhyming nonsense, young Catholics could freely sing it without fear of retribution. In a sense, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an allegory with each word symbolizing a religious significance.

The gifts referenced contain hidden meanings to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The "true love" mentioned was meant to represent God Himself. The "me" who is the recipient of the presents was intended to symbolize every person who had been baptized into the Catholic faith.

"A partridge in a pear tree" was representative of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge in memory of the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem:
Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so....
"A mother partridge will feign injury in order to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. Children hearing these words would know, and understand, the parallel between the acts of this mother bird and the sacrifice of Christ. In other words, it was representative of the one true God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Some believe this to also be significant of the "tree" upon which Christ was crucified.

"Two turtle doves" was representative of gifts from God in the Old and New Testaments. Since the dove symbolizes peace, it was believed that the Gospel contained in these scriptures, when practiced, would bring peace.

"Three French hens" was representative of Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues. This is also sometimes referenced as Faith, Hope and Love, the three gifts of the "Spirit that abide" (I Corinthians 13). The French hens may also represent God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

"Four calling birds" was representative of the Four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ and/or the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

"Five golden rings" was representative of the first Five Books of the Old Testament (also known as the "Pentateuch" or the "Books of Moses") which relate the history of mankind’s fall from grace and chronicle the law condemning humankind for their sins.

"Six geese a-laying" was representative of the Six Days of Creation.

"Seven swans a-swimming" was representative of the "Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit" or the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic faith (I Corinthians 12:8-11; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

"Eight maids a-milking" was representative of the Eight Beatitudes.

"Nine ladies dancing" was representative of the Nine Choirs of Angels or the Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit, namely: love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23).

"Ten lords a-leaping" was representative of the Ten Commandments.

"Eleven pipers piping" was representative of the eleven faithful Disciples.

"Twelve drummers drumming" was representative of the twelve points of belief or doctrine in the Apostles Creed: 1. 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, dead and buried; 5. The third day He rose again from the dead; 6. He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; 7. From thence he shall come to judge the Quick and the dead; 8. I believe in the Holy Ghost; 9. Belief in the communion of saints; 10. The forgiveness of sins; 11. The resurrection of the body; 12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

Although my research questions the validity of this legend I offer this as a gift of encouragement for all. May this tale keep your faith alive, give you courage, and determination this Christmas Season and always.

© 2007 Judi Lynn Lake. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


Judi Lynn Lake has kept up with leading edge business trends throughout her varied and successful career. She had already had her "15 minutes of fame" over and over again before starting her family. Judi and her family now reside in South Carolina, but, having been born and raised on Long Island, NY, it is clearly evident that she will always be a "New Yorker." Today, she successfully runs her own advertising agency which handles everything from logos, branding and package design while she continues to work closely with self-published authors from design to promotion. For more information, visit


The following video, A Charlie Brown Christmas, courtesy of You Tube.


3 comments on "An Underground Catechism"

Sherri Watt on 12/7/08, 8:12 PM said...

Hi Judi,
Great post,as always!! Spot by my blog, I have an award waiting for you.

God Bless!!

Teresa on 12/7/08, 8:34 PM said...

Hey Ethel!!! How you doin', love this post and what you are doing with your blog. God is good indeed.

I love you and I am going to be updating my blog as soon as I am done here, stop by and say hello!! Love you bunches, many blessings to you and thanks so much for the wonderful Thanksgiving greeting! Love, L.

Lori on 12/9/08, 10:27 PM said...

Whether this legend is 100% true or not, it was delightful to think of this song in a new (and more meaningful) way. I'll never hear it the same way now. I love to research the origins or words or phrases, songs, etc. because I love words so much. This post was like dessert for me!


Life As It Happens Copyright 2009 Judi Lynn Lake. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Image by Tadpole's Notez