Origin - Twelve Days of Christmas
     You're all familiar with the christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" I think. To most, it's a delightful nonsense rhyme set to music. But it had quite a serious purpose when it was written. It is a good deal more than just a repeatitious melody with pretty phrases and a list of strange gifts.

        Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from ANY practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime to be a Catholic.

        "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the 'catechism songs' to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith - a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in 'writing' indicating adherence to the Catholic faith. This could not only get you imprisoned, it could get you hanged or shortened by a head, or drawn and quartered, a rather peculiar and ghastly punishment. I'm not aware this was ever practiced anywhere else. Hanging, drawing and quartering involved hanging a person by the neck until they had almost (but not quite) suffocated to death; then the party was taken down from the gallows and disemboweled while still alive. While the entrails were still lying on the street; where the executioners stomped all over them; the victim was tied to four large farm horses and literally torn into five parts - one to each limb and the remaining torso.
The song's gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song, doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents, refers to every baptized person. The "partridge in a pear tree" is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matthew 23:36-38)
The other symbols mean the following:

1 partridge = Jesus

2 turtle doves = the Old and New Testament

3 french hens = faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues

4 calling birds = the four Gospels

5 golden rings = the first five books of the Old Testament, the   "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace
   
6 geese a-laying = the six days of creation

7 swans a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven Sacraments

8 maids a-milking = the eight beatitudes

9 ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 lords a-leaping = the Ten Commandments

11 pipers piping = the eleven faithful apostles

12 drummers drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's creed

by Fr. Hall Stockert 12/17/95
Postscript:
        Over the years since this was written, in about 1982, and first put out for the online world to enjoy, I have been deluged every year with hundreds of "you can't prove this!" kinds of letters. Obviously, I cannot prove "anything" to anyone who doesn't care to believe.

        However, for those who ARE interested in the provenance of the data, and to save myself the burden of having my inbox filled with notes asking for evidence to beat debunkers over the head with, I will simply add this and leave it to the reader to accept it or reject it, as he or she may choose.

        I found this information while I was researching for an entirely unrelated project which required me to go to the Latin texts of the sources pertinent ot my research. Among those primary documents, there were letters from Irish priests, mostly Jesuits, writing back to the motherhouse at Douai_Rheims, in France, mentioning this purely as an aside, and not at all as part of the main content of the letters. In those days, even though there are those who will deny this too; it was a sufficient crime between 1538 and nearly 1700 just to BE a Jesuit in England to find oneself hanged, drawn and quartered if he fell into the hands of the authorities. Edmund Campion was not the sole Jesuit in England during that period. There are places in England itself which (if you visit them) will attest to the antiquity and veracity of the article.

        Whether you believe it or not, is irrelevant to me. You can enjoy it or not, as you choose. I hadn't written it as a doctoral thesis, simply as some delicious tidbit I thought the world would be delighted to share over a holiday season. It seems, however, that there is more than one grinch and I am not a all interested feeding the others who remain past the one in the Christmas cartoons. Believe if you will. Dissent if you choose. Let the rest enjoy the story.

by Fr. Hal 12/15/00
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