The Twelve Days of Christmas (carol)

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The Twelve Days of Christmas is a popular Christmas carol. It is among the most-covered Christmas songs. According to the lyrics, the subject of the poem receives a valuable gift on each of the 12 days of Christmas. The song begins: On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: A partridge in a pear tree.

The gifts in sequential order are:

These are sung with many variations; particularly the gifts given on days nine through twelve are sometimes interchanged (twelve ladies dancing, etc.). The most common modern error, and the one most disparaged by purists, is to sing “four calling birds” instead of “four colly birds”, as the word “colly”, meaning “black”, is no longer used in modern English.

Other interpretations

It has been suggested that “Five golden rings” refer to the rings around the neck of some game birds, such as pheasant, and not to jewellery. As the song is said to be based at least in part on French tradition, it has been postulated that the line “a partridge in a pear tree”, is a mispronunciation of the original,

"A partridge, une perdrix". [1]

The song has often been parodied, and a joke making the internet rounds every Christmas takes the form of a letter ostensibly from the lady who receives the gifts, at first thanking her true love for his generosity, then getting more frustrated and angry as the days pass and she keeps receiving presents she cannot use, and the gifts begin to make nuisances of themselves. [2] That parody is apparently predated by a very similar parody, dated 1964, in which a man, the recipient of the gifts, who really wanted "a tie or an onyx steering wheel knob or a flask with built-in hairbrushes," narrates his increasing frustration, and eventually abandons his house to the birds, milkmaids, drummers, etc., and goes off to live in a motel.[3]

People have even estimated the true cost of the gifts given during the twelves days. Rebekah McCahan of PNC Wealth Management estimates it at over $19,500 for 2007. [4]

In recent times, there has been a theory that the song was written as a code for the teaching of catholic doctrine during the most repressive days of the Protestant Reformation. The myth-busting site Snopes.com says that there is “no substantive evidence” to support any such conclusion and point out the problems with such arguments [5] Mainly, items usually listed as being the encoded tenets are common to both Protestantism and Catholicism, so nothing which would distinguish the two doctrines is ever given as part of the alleged hidden symbolism.

Notes

  1. http://birds.suite101.com/article.cfm/a_partridge_in_a_pear_tree sourced on 11th December 2007
  2. http://www.cvc.org/christmas/12days.htm Sourced 10 December 2007
  3. Jim Dunn, The 12 Days of Christmas, illus. Mary Beth Wiebe, Chapel Hill, N.C.: The Intimate Bookshop, 1964.
  4. http://www.pncchristmaspriceindex.com Sourced 10th December 2007.
  5. http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/12days.asp Sourced 10 December 2007.