Tuesday, December 6, 2016

12 Days of Christmas: Fact & Fiction by @JoanReeves #GemsInAttic

I've been Christmas-ing since September when I started writing my holiday romances: Last Christmas (to be published later this week), Christmas Baby Caper (to be published next week), and Friday Is Cake Day, already available so grab a copy for your holiday baking.

Being in such a Christmas frame of mind means I've been singing Christmas songs for a couple of months. Y'all are just now catching up with me!

Story Behind The 12 Days of Christmas

I’m the kind of person who likes to dig for facts about things. The origin of a creative work is of great interest to me. I hope it is for you too.

Thus, I bring you the story behind the story of one of the most popular Christmas songs, The Twelve Days Of Christmas.

Fact and Fiction

Just about everyone knows The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Some of you may even be able to keep track of how many swans are swimming and lords are leaping, but do you know the fiction and the facts regarding this song?

In 1995, an essay entitled An Underground Catechism was posted by Father Hal Stockert on the online Catholic Information Network. Purporting to be the truth behind the popular song The Twelve Days of Christmas, the article resulted in a storm of controversy and was subsequently found to be not historically accurate, resulting in the article being withdrawn.

The article was published again a few years ago and amended to read:

“It has come to our attention that this tale is made up of both fact and fiction. Hopefully it will be accepted in the spirit it was written. As an encouragement to people to keep their faith alive, when it is easy, and when any outward expressions of their faith could mean their life. Today there are still people living under similar conditions, may this tale give them courage, and determination to use any creative means at their disposal to keep their faith alive.”

The essay by Father Stockert has been debunked by many people on the Internet through the years. As a Christian, I wish Father Stockert had posted the essay as his interpretation of the significance of the numbers from one to twelve, symbolic of the religious significance of the twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany, January 6, when the three wise men arrived on the scene.

I did a little research and offer you...

The True History of The 12 Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas is an English Christmas carol that enumerates a series of gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. Although first published in England in 1780, the song may be French in origin.

The song, whose specific origins are obviously unknown, may have begun as a Twelfth Night “memories and forfeits” game.

A leader would recite a verse, each of the players repeat the verse, then the leader would add another verse, etc. until a player would make a mistake. The player who messed up the verses would have to pay a penalty, or forfeit, such as a kiss or a sweet.

The 12 days in the song are the 12 days starting Christmas Day. In some traditions, the first day is the day after Christmas, December 26, commonly called Boxing Day in England. (This day is also known as St. Stephen’s Day, the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr.) The 12th day is the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.

Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking.”

In 1910, the song came to the United States, courtesy of Emily Brown, of the Downer Teacher’s College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who had found the song in an English music store. She is said to have used the song for the school Christmas pageant.

About Father Stockert’s Part in This

One can only assume that he must have come by this explanation of the song at some point in his life and thought it to be the true record of the song’s history. Whether you find it spiritually rewarding or just a footnote as another Internet urban myth debunked, at least you’ll be entertained and learn the true history of the song, along with a little world history and Christian history in the bargain.

Father Stockert’s Essay

To most, the Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is a nonsense rhyme set to music, but it’s more than just a repetitious melody about a bunch of strange gifts.

From 1558 to 1829, after Henry VIII abolished Catholicism and established the Church of England in order to facilitate and legalize his marriage to Anne Boleyn, Catholics in England were banned from any private or public practice of their faith. It was a crime to be a Catholic.

The Twelve Days of Christmas was written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith. A memory aid was necessary since to be caught with anything in writing that indicated adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned but also could get you hanged or beheaded.

Gifts In the Song

The gifts mentioned in the song had hidden meanings. 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: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so….”

The Complete Symbolism of the Song

Day 1: A Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus Christ, Our Lord

Day 2: 2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments

Day 3: 3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Love, the Theological Virtues

Day 4: 4 Calling Birds = the 4 Gospels and/or the 4 Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
(Originally this was a colly bird. Colly means black as coal so a colly bird was probably a black bird.)

Day 5: 5 Golden Rings = the first 5 Books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy which all give the history of man’s fall from grace. (Originally this was a gold-ringed pheasant, another bird which re-establishes the first seven verses as being birds.)

Day 6: 6 Geese A-laying = the 6 Days of Creation

Day 7: 7 Swans A-swimming = the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit: the 7 Sacraments of Prophecy, Ministry, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leading, and Compassion.

Day 8: 8 Maids A-milking = the 8 Beatitudes. Blessed are: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Day 9: 9 Ladies Dancing = the 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit which are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control.

Day 10: 10 Lords A-leaping = the 10 Commandments.

Day 11: 11 Pipers Piping = the 11 Faithful Apostles who were Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas bar James. The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

Day 12: 12 Drummers Drumming = the 12 Points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed which are as follows:
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell (the grave).
5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
7. I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8. the holy catholic (universal) Church, 9. the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins, 11. the resurrection of the body, and
12. and life everlasting.

Friday Is Cake Day

My mother made a cake nearly every Friday when I was growing up.

Friday Is Cake Day, just in time for the holidays, has 52 recipes so you can make Friday Cake Day too--or just make one when you want to treat the family.

Mix and match a cake with one of basic or specialty frosting recipes and create something different each time.

This book was a labor of love for me. The title speaks to me of my childhood and of my mother who was an incredible home cook. I did this cookbook for my children as much as to share the recipes with all those who love to bake.

Collected from my grandmother, mother, other family, and friends, this special collection has effortless cakes and cakes created to be memorable. You'll find it at Amazon Kindle * Nook * Draft2Digital * Smashwords.

Please accept my good wishes for Happy Holidays and a Very Happy New Year!

Available any day now!
Joan Reeves is a New York Times and a USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance. Her books are available as ebooks and as audio books. New print editions of her books will finally be available in 2017. Several of her books are available in French editions through Bragelonne, her publisher in France.

When not writing, Joan divides her time between a townhouse in Houston and a house in the Texas Hill Country where she and her hero, her husband, attempt to grow wine grapes and fruit trees while fighting hordes of gophers determined to defeat their agricultural efforts. Sign up for Joan's mailing list and receive a free ebook.


  1. What a great post! I'm not sure I'd ever heard the story of the 12 Days before. Thanks for sharing that, and the cake book looks great. My mom baked cakes on Mondays, while the laundry was drying.

    1. Thanks, Liz. I love the "story behind the story" of just about everything. So if you compiled a cookbook it would be MONDAY IS CAKE DAY! *g*

  2. Loved the post! Someone on my FB loop posted a very interesting article how we got some of our sayings. Love hearing about this kind of history. Thanks so much for sharing.
    My mother never cooked on a specific day but she made rolls/loaf bread or doughnuts. Everyone loved her cooking. It's nice to carry on family traditions.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I think our mom generation was composed of awesome women. Most of them didn't have the conveniences we have, yet they were amazing in every aspect of cooking and cleaning, weren't they?

  3. Lovely post. I needed a nudge to boost my holiday spirit and this did the trick. Also shared the info on Friday is Cake Day! AND ... ordered my copy.

  4. Really fun information, Joan. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Super entertaining and informative post. I always knew the 12 days of Christmas were from Christmas or Boxing day to the 6th of January. My Mom always left the tree up till January 6th, which she called "little Christmas".

  6. I never knew that song had any hidden meanings!
    You were really lucky to have a cake every week. In my family cake was pretty much only for birthdays. When my kids were little we used to bake bread on Fridays, though. I could have FRIDAY IS BREAD DAY.


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