I just finished reading a short book entitled, The Real 12 Days of Christmas by Helen Haidle. I picked it up last Spring, intrigued by the idea of Christian symbolism being pictured by each of the 12 days in the traditional song.
I sat down to write this post with the intention of sharing the history behind this beloved, and potentially widely misunderstood song of heritage. Once I began some research to find more information on the song's origin, I quickly discovered there is much controversy over its chronicle.
Most of us know that very little about our Christian history and tradition goes unchallenged. It is to be expected, since God has an enemy who seeks to thwart all God does and says, that His Truth will be disputed by some who do not believe what God says. The origin and meaning of this old Christmas carol is no different.
Rather trying to explain all the versions, complications, and opinions that are out there on this subject, allow me to give a brief recap of what I learned, and share the conclusion that I have come to.
Many people believe that this song originated in France during the Middle Ages, in the 1500's. During this time in Europe, it had become a crime to be a Catholic, so many purport (including the Catholic church) that the song was created as a way for young Catholics to memorize basic tenants of their faith without exposing themselves as Catholics. It is said that there were symbols encoded into the song so that there were two meanings: a surface meaning but with a deeper religious meaning underneath.
As tender as this idea is, there is no evidence (written documentation) anywhere that can confirm this. There have been many who have researched this subject that could produce no physical evidence that this song was specifically written to teach doctrine secretly.
Furthermore, I agree with the logic of some, including the infamous snopes.com, that the idea that a Catholic would have to secretly code their teaching into the lyrics of this song doesn't make any sense, since those that they were persecuted by believed the very same things that are taught in the symbolism. There would be no reason to hide this teaching from Anglican Christians as it does not reveal a belief system of Catholicism at all.
Therefore, the conclusion that I have come to in my limited research is that this song may or may not have been written as a way to teach doctrine secretly, but certainly could have been used to teach Christian doctrine openly during a Holy Season. So my purpose has changed from sharing a bit of old history to sharing some possibly contemporary ideas of relating this song, "The 12 Days of Christmas," to our Christian faith and heritage.
The only question left unanswered being: How long have people been making these associations?
History does not seem to tell us. But that doesn't mean that we have to maintain that "The 12 Days of Christmas" song is nonsense. It can have meaning to our lives in the form of the following symbolism, if we choose to view it, and share it, this way.
Since the 12 days of Christmas traditionally began (depending on where you lived) on either Christmas Day or the day after Christmas (not 12 days before), I would like to post one lyric with its Christian symbolism each day for the next 12 days. That means you have to come back tomorrow to find out what the two turtledoves represent. :-)
"On the first Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me...a partridge in a pear tree."
The First Day of Christmas would represent Christmas Day, the day we celebrate as the Christ Child's birth. My True Love is the one True Love of any believer's life, God Himself, the Giver of all good gifts.
The Partridge, as Helen Haidle points out in her book, "...was known as a valiant bird, willing to fight to the death in order to defend its young. This bird's readiness to die for its young made it an ancient Christian symbol of Christ." She then concludes that the tree that the partridge hangs on is a picture of the Cross.
What a beautiful picture. While looking up more information about partridges, I read about a particular study of these birds during which it was observed in an aviary that both parents would protect their young by hiding them under their wings.
Show the wonder of Your great love,
You who save by Your right hand
those who take refuge in You from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
hide me in the shadow of Your wings
from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.
Psalm 17:7-9I hope you had a peaceful, restful, focused Christmas season. I pray that this next 12 days in this series will help us to perpetuate the season just a little longer. Join me tomorrow for a brief discussion of Day 2.
Additional Source: http://answers.org/issues/twelvedb.html