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On the Third Day of Christmas

Chuck enjoys celebrating holidays with his family. This has led to an interest in researching & writing about holidays & their traditions.

On the Third Day of Christmas - Three French Hens

The three French Hens probably refer to a variety of chicken from France. There are many varieties of chicken and in the period during which this carol developed there were three main varieties of chickens associated with France.

These were the Crevecoeur, Houdans and the La Fleche. The fact that they referred to a French rather than an English variety of chicken may be an indication that the carol originated in France or the words French Hens may have just had a good sound.

Chickens were domesticated in pre-historic times and have been a common barnyard animal for thousands of years. Since chickens were a common domesticated fowl it is only natural that they would be on the menu of great feasts.

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Unlike some of the other birds in the song, chickens, being domesticated, would be readily available for an evening's feast. While game birds, like the partridge, would only be available on the menu if the day's hunt had been successful.

For the nobility and wealthy merchant class, the Christmas celebration was not limited to Christmas but was celebrated from Christmas, the birth of Christ, to Epiphany, the day on which the Magi arrived at the manger in Bethlehem a couple of weeks after the birth of Christ.

Food was a big part of the celebrations as people would gather each night for a festive meal followed by singing, dancing and a general evening of good time.

Links to My Other Hubs on the Twelve Days of Christmas

  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
    The Twelve Days of Christmas is a popular carol that dates back to the Middle Ages. Being much older than other popular Christmas carols, this one appears to have evolved rather than being composed and...
  • Is it a Calling Bird or a Collie Bird in the Carol The Twelve Days of Christmas?
    December 26, 2010 New Hubber, Mary Jane Danley, saw my Hub On the First Day of Christmas and sent me a request asking if the gift on the Fourth Day of Christmas was originally four colley (or collie) birds...
  • On the First Day of Christmas
    Why a partridge in a pear tree? A partridge is not a small bird that can be easily placed in a cage in the kitchen. And the song pre-dates dwarf fruit trees so we are talking about a good sized tree which...
  • On the Second Day of Christmas
    Doves are a common symbol for love and peace, two Christmas themes. Turtle doves are a common species of dove found in France and England and they were often kept in cages as pets during the Middle Ages and...
  • On the Fifth Day of Christmas
    Dec 20, 2006 (updated 12/27/10) Unlike the four collie birds in the previous stanza who just had their name changed to a different, and non-existent, species of bird, the five rings in this stanza have, in...
  • On the Sixth Day of Christmas
    Geese were among the first birds to be domesticated. Our Neolithic ancestors discovered that, rather than spending days searching for animals to kill or nests to rob, it was easier to capture them live and...
  • On the Seventh Day of Christmas
    On the seventh day the lover sends seven swans. Throughout history swans have been associated with royalty and the swan is often used on royal symbols and other decorations. Swans are also found in myths...
  • On the Eighth Day of Christmas
    The eight maids a-milking addresses two of the major themes of fifteenth and sixteenth century English celebrations and parties during the Christmas holidays food and romance. What is a feast or...
  • On the Ninth Day of Christmas
    The nine ladies dancing evokes images of music and dancing which were a big part of the celebrations at this period of history in England. The term ladies probably refers to noble ladies as in a Lord and his...
  • On the Tenth Day of Christmas
    December 21, 2006 The ten lords a-leaping most likely refers to leaping dancers (called morris dancers) who performed leaping dances between courses at feasts. This type of wild and strenuous dancing...
  • On the Eleventh Day of Christmas
    At the big feasts held during the holiday celebrations the guests were often entertained by musicians, dancers, jugglers, etc. as well as singing and dancing themselves. Bagpipes and their younger cousins the...
  • On the Twelfth Day of Christmas
    Dec 21, 2006 (updated 12/27/10) With the twelfth day we have reached the end of the song and have arrived at the last day of Christmas known as Twelfth Night on which the partying and feasting continued....

© 2006 Chuck Nugent

Comments

Eanraig on December 15, 2010:

A French Hen is a Turkey. In Gaelic the Turkey is called Cearc-Fhrangach (lit.French Hen. Turkeys were very popular among the French nobility as early as the mid 16th century as they were much more tasty and tender than than the other large feast birds eaten at that time such as cormorant, heron peacock, and swan.

The turkey had been imported to France by early Jesuit missionaries to the New World and in some dialects of French are still known as "Jesuite".

enzymologist on December 18, 2008:

In Greek the literal translation of the turkey is a "french bird" so perhaps it is a reference to turkeys....a Christmas carol that also has a partridge, geese, swans etc would hardly be complete without the christmas turkey(s)...and I always thought it was calling birds, not collie birds?

moonlake from America on March 11, 2008:

Love chickens. Like your three little hens.