What ARE the 12 days of Christmas?

What ARE the 12 days of Christmas?

We’ve all heard of the 12 Days of Christmas, and most of us know the first couple of lines of the song – but what exactly are the 12 days of Christmas?

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the period commemorating the birth of Christ, starting on December 25. There is some confusion about the end date, with some people choosing the fifth of January and others the sixth of January. Epiphany – the day the wise men (or magi) visited the baby Jesus is the sixth of January.

Different countries have different tradition regarding when the main celebrations and gift-giving takes place. Some countries celebrate on Christmas Day, some on Christmas Eve and some only on 12th night.

Boxing Day is celebrated on 26 December in the UK and former colonies. It is a secular celebration which has no relevance to the twelve days of Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas” is probably more recognizable as the English Christmas carol. The song, first published in 1870 was originally a chant, with no music. The music that we now recognize was an arrangement of a traditional English folk song introduced in1909.

The lyrics we recognize are:

  • 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 and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Five Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Six Geese a Laying, Five Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying, Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Eight Maids a Milking, Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying, Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Nine Ladies Dancing
    Eight Maids a Milking, Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying, Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Ten Lords a Leaping, Nine Ladies Dancing, Eight Maids a Milking, Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying, Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Eleven Pipers Piping, Ten Lords a Leaping, Nine Ladies Dancing, Eight Maids a Milking, Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying, Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree
  • On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: 12 Drummers Drumming, Eleven Pipers Piping, Ten Lords a Leaping, Nine Ladies Dancing, Eight Maids a Milking, Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying, Golden Rings, Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

It is thought that the song began as a children’s game, first printed in English in 1780 in a little book intended for children, Mirth without Mischief. A leader was chosen to recite a verse, and each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on. If a player got it wrong then a forfeit of a sweet or possibly a kiss was payable

In the north of England, there was a version called “Ten Days of Christmas”, and the gifts in the song varied widely from county to county. The song is now recognizable throughout the English speaking world, and in some countries the gifts have bee replaced with local equivalents – for example the Australian version features local animals.

Although various suggestions have been made regarding the significance of the gifts, it is unlikely that there was any significant meaning to the song – rather it was just a bit of fun. Some “gifts” have changed with “four calling birds” probably originally “four colly birds” – colly being a regional expression for black.

 

Wherever the sing comes from and how ever you choose to celebrate your 12 Days of Christmas, we hope it is always a festive and friendly time for you.

Check out a few videos of this classic below!!