The carol was first published in England in 1780 without any music, chant or rhyme and it is thought to have originated in France.
The reasoning behind this carol is thought to be viewed by Christians as the period between Christmas Day and the time it took for the three magi, or wise men, to travel to Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus Christ, known as the Epiphany.
The word epiphany is from the Greek word meaning “revelation”.
For example, the churches here celebrate Christmas on 25th December and the Epiphany on 6th January, and the period in between as the 12 days and nights of Christmas.
It is thought the meaning behind the gifts in this carol were there to help young Christians learn about their faith.
As the song goes, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…”. The meaning of this is that, “true love” would represent God and the “me” would be the Christian person receiving the gifts.
If you break the carol down line by line, the hidden meanings become clear as you’ll see below:-
The “partridge in a pear tree” was to symbolise Jesus Christ who died on a tree, and this was a gift from God.
The “two turtle doves” were the Old and New Testaments from the Bible.
The “three French hens” were faith, hope and love – the three gifts of the Spirit.
The “four calling birds” were the four Gospels, whom were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The “five golden rings” were in respect to the first five books of the Bible also called the “Books of Moses” and also known as Torah or Law, which describe man’s fall into sin.
The “six geese a-laying” represented the six days of creation.
The “seven swans a swimming” were referring to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The “eight maids a milking” were the eight beatitudes, which were the blessings listed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
The “nine ladies dancing” were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The “ten lords a-leaping” referred to the Ten Commandments.
The “eleven pipers piping” were the eleven faithful disciples and finally
The “twelve drummers drumming” were the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed. The word ‘creed’ derives from the Latin word credo, which means ‘I believe and trust’.
So next time you sing “The 12 Days Of Christmas” you will understand the meaning behind such a well known Christmas carol.