The coded meaning of the 12 days of Christmas?

by Anna Blanch on December 19, 2009

At a Christmas party the other night a rowdy rendition of the Twelve days of christmas broke out, with a particular emphasis on (who knows why) five Golden Rings. After a discussion I remembered that I’d seen an interpretation of this song as a mnemonic of sort for foundational Christian theological ideas. Wikipedia doesn’t agree with this idea but i wonder what you think? Below the lyrics you will find the most common interpretation that i’ve found cobbled together from a number of sources.


On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five golden rings,
On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven pipers piping,
On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,

1 True Love refers to God
2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch”, which gives the history of man’s fall from grace.
6 Geese a-laying refers to the six days of creation
7 Swans a-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids a-milking refers to the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords a-leaping refers to the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

The lyrics were first published in English in 1780. Did the interpretation follow as a way to understand the song? or did the lyricist have this in mind?

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