So...where did this song come from (and how drunk was the writer?) I researched my query (oh my goodness...I've been in school too long!) and this is what I found out. To properly cite my source, I found this information in Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins.
In Britain, during the sixteenth century, the Church of England was the only legally recognized Christian church. Practicing any other religion was punishable by law. To protect themselves from legal recourse, people began preaching in secret and in code. This included teaching their children.
In the song, the "true love" is a heavenly love. The meaning of each gift is as follows:
- Partridge in a Pear Tree--"Courage and devotion above what man ever showed on earth"
- Two Turtle Doves--Old and New Testaments (also, doves symbolize peace and truth)
- Three French Hens--Expensive food items...a meal fit for a king. The hens implied gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
- Four Calling Birds--Represent the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- Five Gold Rings--Five books of the old testament.
- Six Geese-a-laying--Represent the six creative periods of the world.
- Seven Swans-a-Swimming--Gifts of the spirit ("prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy")
- Eight Maids-a-Milking--Milking cattle was the lowest job possible and having a lady do that meant she was of little worth. This represents Christ's humility. The number eight also signified the beattitudes.
- Nine Ladies Dancing--Represent the gifts of the Spirit ("love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control").
- Ten Lords-a-Leaping--Represent the 10 Commandments.
- Eleven Pipers Piping--Represent the 11 apostles who preached the Gospel after Christ's resurrection.
- Twelve Drummers Drumming--Represents "The Apostle's Creed":
"I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell; the third day he rose fromt he dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. He shall return to judge the lviing and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the boyd, and life everlasting."
Looking at "The 12 Days of Christmas" from this perspective, it is actually an amazing song. However, it might be better as a poem instead of a song...I don't know. Either way, it is brilliant!