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The 12 Days of Christmas Facts and Folklore

Cheryl enjoys writing about the first Christmas and all things related to the season.


The time frame

The 12 days of Christmas do not lead up to the winter holiday as many have believed over the decades. They actually begin on December 25 and end on January 6 when Epiphany is observed. This is the occasion to celebrate the Wise men finding the Christ child. (Matthew chapter 2). There is a lot of folklore regarding the popular song The 12 days of Christmas, but Goodhousekeeping has done a great job of sorting out fact from fiction. Over the decades it has been said that the 12 days each have religious significance. This was not so when the tune was first penned but evolved over the years. The first known appearance of the song in print was in the English children's book Mirth Without Mischief which was published in 1780. In this version, the "four “ calling” birds were four “ Colly” birds. Colly is Old English slang which means blackbirds, In another older version of the Christmas song, the partridge in a pear tree is replaced with a “very pretty peacock upon a pear tree". The classic holiday song that we sing today was penned in 1909, by British composer Frederic Austin. It is believed that the song began as a memory game where you had to forfeit something if you missed a verse. It sounds like they really had fun with this tune in those early days.

The 12 days and what they mean

Some find this song to be annoying but others love it. Each day of the twelve has some fantastic events taking place. Here is.a list for those who do not know the song by heart. I grew up singing this almost every year in elementary school and it has stuck with me all these decades later.

12. Drummers drumming

11. Pipers piping

10, Lords a leaping

9. Ladies dancing

8. Maids a milking

7. Swans a swimming

6.Geese a laying

5. Golden rings

4. Calling birds

3. French hens

2. turtle divest

1. A partridge in a pear tree

Within the world of believers in Christ, there are those who teach that the song was actually a secret code for persecuted Christians. which does fact checks says there is no evidence to back this up, but still many consider it to be true. I look at it this way. People who do not accept Jesus as Lord partake in the celebration of the day His birth is observed and leave Him out of it. Why can't His followers take a song that was not originally regarding His word and make it all about Him?


Enjoy yourself

In the Christian theory, the partridge is Christ, in the manger. The 2 Turtle Doves represent the Old and New Testaments and the 3 French hens are Faith, Hope, and Charity. The 4 calling birds are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the 5 gold rings are the Pentatook, the first 5 books of the Bible.

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The 6 Geese a-laying allude to the six days of creation. The 7 Swans represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the 8 milking maids are the eight beatitudes. The 9 Ladies Dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. The 10 leaping Lords are the ten commandments. The 11 Pipers are the eleven faithful apostles,(minus Judas who betrayed the Lord), and the 12 Drummers are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.This sounds encouraging for those who celebrate the religious context of Christmas and someone obviously put a lot of time into reconciling the song with the Bible even if there is no validation that this is accurate.

In our modern times, people often sing the 12 days of Christmas at holiday celebrations. There was a time when school children learned the song and sang it in the classroom or pageants or plays. There have been television programs where characters changed the lyrics and put their own doing on the lyrics. I was unable to find any on the Internet but I recall on the sitcom A Different World, the students replaced the partridge in a pear tree with “ bumping to an MC Hammer CD. Why not try putting your own spin on the song this year?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Cheryl E Preston


Cheryl E Preston (author) from Roanoke on December 01, 2020:

I think its fun

Sp Greaney from Ireland on December 01, 2020:

You have totally made me look at this song in a new way. I enjoy listening to it as well.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on December 01, 2020:


This is a great article.

I have always heard and often sang this song in my past.

In all my years I have never known about this breakdown of each part.

I really enjoyed reading and learning what each part of the song represents the turtle doves meaning the two testaments.

OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on December 01, 2020:

Good one.

Ann Carr from SW England on December 01, 2020:

Yes, we used to sing a lot too and I loved it! Children like lists and it's fun to remember which ones are where. Some versions here still use 'Colly' birds. Hope you don't mind my saying this, but I think you have a typo in the list, at number 1 Turtle doves! Easily done!

Lovely hub, getting us into the spirit of Christmas.


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 01, 2020:

I grew up singing this song in elementary school also. I enjoyed reading this article.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on November 30, 2020:

Interesting article. Well presented.

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