Monday, December 27, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas

Today is December 27th, the "Third Day of Christmas!"  So, Merry Christmas!  Remember, THIS is the Season of Christmas and it lasts until Epiphany - which is January 6th.  The days prior to December 25th were days of penance and anticipation in the Season of Advent (some observe this season similarly to Lent).  But now it is Christmas!  Christmas began with the First Mass of Christmas - the Christ Mass, which is traditionally the "Midnight Mass." 

There are many ways to celebrate the Twelve Days - some do so with a gift each day.  Special prayers and devotions in honor of the Christ child too are very appropriate. 

Some controversy has arisen over the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  It may be seen as a strange set of verses based upon the "Twelve Days."  Some, however, believe it has to do with the Catholics of England in the 16th-19th centuries wherein Catholics were persecuted by Anglican Protestants.  The twelve verses then relate to catechetical lessons:

First Day: Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus on the Cross
Second Day: 2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
Third Day: 3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
Fourth Day: 4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
Fifth Day:  5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
Sixth Day: 6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
Seventh Day: 7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
Eighth Day:  8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
Ninth Day: 9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Tenth Day: 10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
Eleventh Day: 11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
Twelfth Day: 12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Another variation/reason for the verses comes from a book which was published in 1870, "Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration and History, by Leigh Grant."  This book states that it was a "memory and forfeit game" whereby the leader would start the first verse, then the next person had to recite the second verse, and so on, until someone made a mistake.

Snopes also presents the case that the catechetical meaning behind the song is false.  However, Snopes does not really offer a "better alternative" meaning.  It largely argues why it is not logical to have been rooted in this persecution theory as all the concepts mentioned by the supporters of this theory are shared in Catholicism and Anglicanism - so where would the "secret" be?  Also, to pick a song which is so limited in season - what did they do for catechism the rest of the liturgical year?  The Snopes article does mention the same "memory and forfeit" game as a possible alternative origin.

Sue Widemark, a long time friend of mine, posts an article in support of the Catholic persecution story, and she makes some very good points there as well (see link below).

All in all, it's a fun song - and if it helps you remember your catechism - GREAT!  Enjoy the Christmas Holy Days (holidays)! 

Sources:
http://www.byrum.org/misc/christmas/origin.html
http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp
Sue Widemark: http://suewidemark.netfirms.com/12days.htm
Google Timeline: (click here)

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