The Meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas
December is by far the most popular month all over the world. Why? Because it’s the
Christmas Season! It’s not just Christmas Day that fills you with joy by being surrounded
with family and friends (and Christmas presents), but the entire month has a more
uplifting, happier spirit of community. However, did you know that the actual Christmas
season starts on Christmas Day itself? Well, December 25th is the official beginning of
the 12 days of Christmas, a much talked about Christmas tradition.
There are so many stories behind this Christmas tradition and you may be wondering
what it means.
Meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas
There are two explanations given to the meaning of this Christian tradition. According
to Christian theology, 12 days of Christmas is a period between the birth of Christ, and
the beginning of Christianity, to the coming of the three wise men or the Magi. Therefore
this period starts on 25th December (Christmas Day) and ends on 6th of January (Three
King’ Day or the Epiphany).
Also, the 12 days of Christmas refers to a popular Christmas carol. In this song, the
singer boasts about the many expensive gifts he/she received from their ‘true love’
during this period of the 12 days of Christmas. One unique thing with the song is the
way the verses build on each other like that shopping list memory game we played in
Most people all over the world today are conversant with the version of this song that
start with this verse:
On the first day of Christmas,
My true love sent me,
A partridge in a pear tree
The other 12 verses that follow add a gift for each day in such a manner that the next
verse builds on the one before it all the way to the 12th verse.
Origin of the Carol, ‘12 Days of a Christmas’
This Christmas carol has unclear historical origin. However, the earliest version of the
song is said to have featured in a book by the title, Mirth With-out Mischief, which is a
children’s book written around 1870. According to historians, the song is of French
origin and was first published in England as a poem, having no musical rhyme or chant.
There have been so many variations in the lyrics of this carol at different times in
history. There are some that mention ‘ships a-sailing’ or ‘bears a-baiting’ while others
talk of the gift giver as the mother to the singer instead of the ‘true love’. In most of the
early versions, ‘four colly birds’ are listed. ‘Colly birds’ here refers to blackbirds.
The version that most people are familiar with today is the one composed by an English
composer by the name Fredrick Austin in 1909.
What the controversy behind this Christmas carol?
The claim that this carol is a Christmas song has received lots of criticism. The view that
this song may have been composed as a way for the Roman Catholics in England to
practice their faith, has been greatly questioned and corrected. Critics of this claim point
out that there were no severe persecutions at that time to warrant the use of this song
as a catechism song to teach their faith secretly to their young Catholics.
All in all, 12 days of Christmas is a popular Christmas tradition surrounded by a lot of
mysteries and variations abound particularly in regard to the interpretation of the
Christmas carol, the 12 Days of Christmas.
Watch this kids animated version of The 12 Days of Christmas by Hoopla Kidz: