it is thought that the gifts listed in this famous song were not really gifts at all, but were symbolic of something else. So what do the lyrics symbolize? It depends on whom you ask.
The song has French origins. It was published in an English children's book called Mirth Without Mischief somewhere around 1780. Most people believe it started out as a memory game sung at Twelfth Night parties. The twelves days of Christmas in the Christian world refer to the twelve days between Christ's birth (Christmas Day and the arrival of the Magi (the Wise Men) to honor the new baby on January 6, also known as Epiphany. The myth that this song reveals some secret Catholic message has been fairly well debunked by leading experts.
In more modern times, the song has been searched for "coded references to Catholic doctrine, ancient Egyptian holidays, Roman myths, and even the menu of Medieval feasts." But if one were to purchase all the items listed on the Twelve Days of Christmas, you'd be looking at a credit card bill of somewhere around $39,095 or $170,609 if count each mention of each item which amounts to 364 gifts. And like everything else, the price goes up each year. In 2018, the cost is up 1.2% from last year.
On its surface, the song can seem nonsensical but it really does have a deeper meaning than just being a fun song to sing during the holiday season. "Leigh Grant, who wrote and illustrated a children’s book about “The Twelve Days,” said the gifts are popular parts of medieval feasts, often held during Twelfth Night celebrations. The birds were eaten while the pipers, drummers, and lords entertained the guests. The five golden rings in the song refer not to jewelry, but to ring-necked pheasants." But the song is also rife with symbolism.
Partridges and pears, for instance, were considered emblems of fertility during the Renaissance, she said. Likewise, geese and swans were seen as intermediaries between the earth and the sky, and thus humans and heaven. What has most likely happened to this song is that throughout the centuries, the song has been changed somewhat to suit the times and thus its meaning may have also evolved over time.
The version of the song that most of us are familiar with comes from an English composer named Frederic Austin. In 1909 he set the melody and the lyrics, changing the original colly birds to calling birds and "adding his own little flourish; the drawn-out cadence of "five go-old rings."
I close this blog with one final thought on The Twelve Days of Christmas. Don't you think they missed the boat by using 10 Lords A-leaping instead of 10 Frogs A-leaping? I think it would have made the song much better....
Until Monday, I wish you all a happy and safe weekend.