Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Twelve Days Of Christmas

[Y Note: I dinna know if this is true or not, but got it in an email chain and thot it was cool, so here ya go.]

See the first comment, this is all a bunch of malarkey. Thanks Sharon!

I kinda sorta suspected this was BS, and here's why: It seemed to me that it would be easier to memorize the things that this myth says all the lyrics are mnemonics for rather than the mnemonics themselves, as mnemonics are supposed to suggest the thing you're trying to remember. I can see the little tot now asking, "Can't I just remember it's Jesus and not a Partridge?"

The "oppression" thing struck me as odd, too. I know in Britain there was some silliness in that regard, and Catholics have certainly been made to feel unwelcome in some places, but this myth made me wonder where the oppression had been so bad they'd had to go into stealth mode. Glad it's just myth.

Makes one wonder what the song is supposed to really mean, or if it was just alliterative devices and that's it.

This is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me.

What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

Today I found out, thanks to the Internet.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church.

Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

* The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

* Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

* Three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.

* The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

* The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

* The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

* Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

* The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

* Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

* The 10 lords a-leaping were the 10 commandments.

* The 11 pipers piping stood for the 11 faithful disciples.

* The 12 drummers drumming symbolized the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

So, there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol... so pass it on if you wish.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Aaaargh! Not the 12 Days of Christmas Myth again! Actually I was thinking of blogging on this some time, as it was the hair that broke the camel's back and got me to withdraw my oldest from CCD (Catholic Sunday School for non-parochial school students). It's a myth, of course (see http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/12days.asp for the full details) but it was taught to my dear Offspring's class as gospel truth. It was the first time in five years of CCD that Protestants had ever even been mentioned, and it was in the context of a lie about Poor Catholics persecuted by Those Awful Protestants. Merry Christmas, and don't forget to make it a season of resentment against thy neighbor!

I told the teacher afterwards it was a lie, and her response was "It's in the book." So it was. I complained to the DRE (Director of Religious Education), telling her I could teach my kids lies on my own time and didn't expect to pay for CCD so they could learn lies there, and anyway how would she like it if little Protestant kids were taught falsehoods about persecutions by Catholics, knowing they were false? She backed up the teacher and refused even to consider refraining from teaching the same lie the next year. That was it for me. I told her I would handle religious ed. at home and stick to things that were actually true, and withdrew Offspring #1.

Given how much blood has been spilled through history between Protestants and Catholics, I vote that we not go out of our way to make up fake tales of persecution to throw onto the pile.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

For a Christmas song that really does do a Christian countdown from 12, try "Children Go Where I Send Thee" (one of my favorite songs from childhood btw), with varying lyrics, being a folksong and all:




The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Responding to your update ... The place to go for information would be one of the many volumes by Richard and Iona Opie, the uber-researchers of nursery rhymes, folk songs, children's games, etc. Unfortunately this requires dead-tree research rather than Googling.

A plausible suggestion is that the song is originally French, based on the reported existence of very similar French and Languedoc songs, and on the arresting fact that "a partridge" in French is "une perdrix," which in English sounds just like the words "in a pear tree."

Of course French Protestants never persecuted Catholics--quite the other way around--so that would be another nail in the persecution theory.