Ted Malloch: The True Meaning of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ May Surprise You

Guest post by Ted Malloch author of Davos, Aspen and Yale

There is one Christmas carol that has always baffled me.

Have you ever wondered about THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS?

What in the world do leaping Lords; French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge that won’t come out of the pear tree, have to do with Christmas?

I had to find out.

From 1558 until 1829, Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith, altogether openly.

Someone during that era secretly wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Christians.


It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church.

Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember.

Now we will let you in on the “secret”.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

Two turtledoves were the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of The Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit:  Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control.

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

A few historical facts for our own era, when in public we can no longer it appears even mention the word “Christmas”, have a crèche, let alone sing these songs in schools and malls.

Is it not time to usher in a new era of faithfulness, tradition and sanity – to take our country/civilization back?

To that end, I have attached my recent longer essay “On Belief.”

I hope you read and ponder its meaning this season!

After all, happy “holidays”, actually translates as happy — Holy Days.

Don’t mention that in the mainstream media or on Facebook or Twitter: you may be banned!

And do have a ‘Merrie’ (from the Old English myrge meaning, pleasing, agreeable, pleasant, and sweet) Christ Mass.

It is a ‘Mass’ or Eucharist liturgy celebrating our Saviour’s birth.

See: Belief in the Modern World: The Lamblight Lecture presented by Dr. Ted Malloch

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