Reflection: The 12 Days of Christmas

Between the years 1558 and 1829, there was a period of severe Catholic persecution in England. Praying the Rosary could send one to jail. Attending Mass could mean being shot or hanged. If one was caught doing anything in public to demonstrate one’s the Catholic faith, he or she would most likely be punished.

But Catholic families so loved their faith that they found ways to hold fast to their beliefs and to pass that faith on to future generations. One of among many ways they did that inconspicuously was to write “catechism songs” that communicated the Catholic faith in coded lyrics and words.

One of those songs that survives today is a song we all know: “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” In the song, the “True Love” – who is God – gives 12 gifts. And they seem like strange gifts until their true significance is revealed. What do those 12 gifts really mean?

A partridge is the symbol of Christ, because a partridge will go to great lengths and even endure death to protect her defenseless nestlings.

Two turtle doves symbolize the Old and the New Testaments.

Three French hens represent the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

The four calling birds are the four Gospels written by Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Five golden rings. There is a change in the melody at this point during the focal point of the song. The five rings represent the five wounds of Jesus Christ on the Cross, Our Redeemer, who died for our sake.

Six geese a–laying represent the six days of creation.

Seven swans a–swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven sacraments.

Eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Ten lords a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments.

Eleven pipers playing signify the eleven faithful Apostles.


Twelve drummers drumming are the twelve tenets of the Apostles’ Creed.

As we celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, which from the Nativity of the Lord to the Epiphany, which we celebrate this Sunday, may we be thankful for our Faith and never take it for granted.

Be assured of my prayers for you and your families for a blessed, holy and healthy new year.

In Christ —

Monsignor Tom Powers

Parochial Administrator of St. Ann Parish