Friday, December 28, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas: a secret Catechesis?

The other dayI had a fascinating Facebook message from a dear friend in the US. Katharine is Irish and now lives in Idaho, I think. She used to live 'just up the road' from here in an even smaller village than Saint Romain.. Her message focused on Ann Ball's book 'A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals' of which I was woefully ignorant. In the book the author claims that our well known Christmas song acually dates back to penal times when Catholics had to hide their faith. You may all know this and because of my interest in this kind of history I was surprised that I did not. The book was thankfully available from Amazon at $4.95  and so I ordered, it mainly to find out the background and scholastic reputation of its author. However it may or may not be well founded in fact, her theory about the song is quite plausible, and indeed it does make a good catechetical reminder. I look forward to reading it in the New Year.

Firstly the repeated 'True Love' after each section is Jesus Christ Himself, who is the real True Love who was made man on Christmas Day. Each time and with each gift, He also sends a partridge in a pear tree. This is a hidden reference to Christ's giving of Himself on the cross to save us all . It is appropriate because folklore had it that the Partridge was willing to give up its life for its offspring.

And gifts two to 12 are explained as follows.

Two Turtle Doves - The Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens - Faith, Hope and Charity
Four Calling Birds - The four evangelists and their Gospels
Five Gold Rings - The first five books of the Old Testament
Six Geese a-laying - The six days of Creation
Seven Swans a-swimming - The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids a-milking - The eight Beatitudes
Nine Ladies dancing - the fruits of the Holy Spitit
Ten Lords a-leaping - the ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers piping - the eleven faithful apostles
Twelve Drummers drumming - the twelve points of belief as in the Apostles Creed

Thank you and a very happy Christmas to Katharine and to Ann Ball


On the side of the angels said...

All lovely and I'm sorry but it's a load of bunkum...totally untrue and far from being traditional is only about 20 yrs old.

Primarily Perdrix [the french word for partridge] sounds like Pear there's no wood of the cross analogy...
Although this nouveau-legend has this being either catechetical or a secret code of Catholics in Tudor times only Protestants have 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit - Catholics have 12 [although I suppose nine choirs of angels could be an adequate substitute]

The song's only about 150 years old and it derives from an older french version but most older versions reverse the final pairings
12 Lords, 11 Ladies, 10 Drummers etc...I doubt the 11 faithful apostles would ever be associated with dancing ladies...
and Calling birds is an invention since the's Colly Birds [blackbirds]

BUT please don't let me spoil anything because there IS a song from the Oxford Hymnal of 1625 which goes:

|: In those twelve days let us be glad :|
For God of His power hath all things made.

What are they that are but one?
What are they that are but one?

We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne:

What are they which are by two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true:

What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity:

What are they which are but four
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ's birth, life, death which do declare:

What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign

What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long:

What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man's soul to crown:

What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven:

What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven's nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears:

What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save:

What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus' sake:

What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God's son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial's done:

Jane said...

Thanks Paul, good to know that my barely disguised scepticism was not misplaced. I think you must have guessed that I was not entirely convinced. I'll post again about this when I have read the Ball book.