"Twelve Days of Christmas" -- the song

Recent urban legends about this song not accurate

Christmas actually begins on The Feast of the Nativity -- 25 December. The period prior to Christmas is known as Advent which precedes Christmas by four weeks. From 25 December until 5 January marks the Twelve Days of Christmas. That period ends on the Feast of the Epiphany -- 6 January. The Epiphany is also known as the Feast of the Three Kings.

There is a well-known Christmas song known as The Twelve Days of Christmas. It begins with the lyrics: 'On the first day of Christmas my fare love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree'.

It then continues thorough all the days of Christmas.


Twelve Days of Christmas

The next number of days

  • Day 2 - two turtle doves
  • Day 3 - three French hens
  • Day 4 - four calling birds
  • Day 5 - five gold rings
  • Day 6 - six geese a-laying
  • Day 7 - seven swans a-swimming
  • Day 8 - eight maids a-milking
  • Day 9 - nine ladies dancing
  • Day 10 - 10 lords a-leaping
  • Day 11 - 11 pipers piping
  • Day 12 - 12 drummers drumming

Did you know?

A few years ago, stories were circulating about the origins of this song. The stories told that the song contained hidden meanings related to the Roman Catholic catechism. According the legend, this was during a time in England when Roman Catholics could not practise their faith openly. Each line of the song was said to be references to Christianity and The Bible.

As it turns out upon a bit of research, this is simply an urban legend with no basis in history.

It is likely that the song originated in France prior to its appearing in England. The song was a kind of game that people played during the Season of Christmas.

How the game was played

The first person would sing a line of the lyrics and the rest would repeat back. This would proceed through the number of days with the accompanying increasing number of items for each day to test each person's recall. The person who made a mistake or forgot one of the lines had to pay a forfeit such as giving a kiss or a candy.

The earliest known version first appeared in a 1780 children's book called Mirth With-out Mischief.  From 1760 in France , there are earlier editions of the same song which support the fact that the song was not of English origin.


Maybe next year...

In any event, The Twelve Days of Christmas remains a popular song at Christmas time. Maybe next year, you should try it as a Christmas party game for some good-hearted revelry in the Season of Christmas.

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