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JOE LAGUARDIA: 'Twelve Days of Christmas' fraught with Christian meaning

Joe LaGuardia

Joe LaGuardia

Over the past few years, my best friend and his family have celebrated Advent by participating in 12 events they dub the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Some of these events are low-key, like baking; while others are costly, like attending the Magic Night of Lights at Lake Lanier.

I wonder what would happen if my friend ever decided to purchase all of the stuff in the actual “Twelve Days of Christmas” song this Christmas.

According to the PNC Christmas Price Index, which researches the cost of the items in the song each year, my buddy would have to shell out over $27,000 to provide the literal 12 days of Christmas for his family. That includes spending nearly $4,800 for 10 lords-a-leaping and $7,000, the highest ticket item, for seven swans-a-swimming.

Knowing my friend, he would probably settle for the $15 partridge or perhaps the $184 pear tree. Hey, what other family can boast a real partridge in a pear tree for Christmas?

Although a value is fixed to the items in this beloved song, there is real invaluable meaning behind this chestnut of a carol despite its dubious origins.

Many people believe that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” was a song that English Catholic catechumens learned in order to stave off persecution. In the words of one online source, “Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law — private or public. It was a crime to be a Catholic,” and the song was written as a memory aid to bolster the tenets of the faith.

You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, however. Snopes.com debunks this mythic origin.

The “Twelve Days of Christmas” was likely born not out of a persecuted community, but as a result of a French, 18th century child’s game. The goal of the game was to add each item onto the song without forgetting the items that proceeded it. Rewards included candy. Losers forfeited either a sweet or a kiss.

Regardless of the possible origins of the song, the song has become a mainstay in Christmas lore and still has the power to remind us that Christmas is not merely one day out of the year, but includes the 12 days between Jesus’ birthday and Epiphany, a day that acknowledges the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

The song communicates the notion that Christmas is fraught with meaning and that extensive reflection and worship is due our Lord and Savior. Perhaps this is why my friend’s family started their “Twelve Days of Christmas” tradition in the first place: Because celebrating our Lord’s birth for one day and one day only is so anticlimactic when compared with the month-long hype that comes with shopping, cooking, and baking.

The song still has the power to teach. For those of you who have children who sing this song regularly, you may want to brush up on the ascribed meaning of the items.

Here goes: The “one true love” represents God. The partridge is Jesus. The two turtle doves refer to the two Testaments of the Bible.

The three French hens refer to Paul’s theological triad of faith, hope and love (or perhaps the Trinity?) Four calling birds speak (no pun intended) to the four Gospels, while the five gold rings symbolize the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). The six geese-a-laying are the six days of creation; the seven swans are the seven sacraments (sorry, Protestants).

The eight milking maids represent the eight beatitudes and the nine dancing ladies refer to the fruits of the Spirit. As for 10 leaping lords and 11 piping pipers, they symbolize the Ten Commandments and the 11 faithful apostles. Lastly, the 12 drummers drumming are none other than the 12 points of the Apostle’s Creed.

So now you know the facts surrounding the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and if you still doubt, then maybe the sweet song of a couple of turtle doves ($365) will change your heart and mind.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinityassociate@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.