[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.