12 days of Christmas
The twelve days of Christmas begins on December 25 and end just before Epiphany, that falls on January 6. Epiphany is a Christian feast intended to celebrate the 'shining forth' or revelation of God to mankind in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ. The observance originally included the birth of Jesus Christ; the visit of the three Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) who arrived in Bethlehem; and all of Jesus' childhood events, up to his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.
The feast was initially based on, and viewed as a fulfillment of the Jewish Feast of Lights known as Chanukah. This was fixed on January 6 , but over time the western churches decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25. The eastern churches continued to treat January 6 as the day marking Jesus's birth. This has given rise in the west to the notion of a twelve day festival, starting on December 25 and ending on January 6, called the twelve days of Christmas.
Feasting And Merrymaking
In the Middle Ages, this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. During the twelve days of Christmas, traditional roles were often relaxed, masters waited on their servants, men were allowed to dress as women, and women as men. Often a Lord of misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. Some of these traditions have an echo in modern day pantomime where traditionally authority is mocked and the principal male lead is played by a woman, while the leading older female character, or 'Dame' is played by a man.
This period is referred to in the song Twelve Days of Christmas. Twelve Days of Christmas is a traditional Christmas song, or Christmas Carol. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days from December 25 to January 6 or the Twelfth Night. The date of the song's first performance is not known, though it was used in European and Scandinavia traditions as early as the 16th century.
The 12 Days of Christmas" is in a sense an allegory. Each of the items in the song represents something significant to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The hidden meaning of each gift was designed to help Catholic children learn their faith. The song goes, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me" The "true love" mentioned in the song refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. i.e. the Church.
The partridge in a pear tree is Christ Jesus upon the Cross.
The "two turtle doves" refers to the Old and New Testaments.
The "three French hens" stand for faith, hope and love.
The "four calling birds" refers to the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The "five golden rings" represents the first five books of the Bible, also called the Jewish Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The "six geese a-laying" is the six days of creation.
The "seven swans a-swimming" refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
The "eight maids a milking " reminded children of the eight beatitudes listed in the Sermon on the Mount.
The "nine ladies dancing" were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
The "ten lords a-leaping" represents the Ten Commandments.
The "eleven pipers piping" refers to the eleven faithful apostles.
The 'twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of belief expressed in the Apostles' Creed: belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, made man, crucified, died and arose on the third day, that he sits at the right hand of the father and will come again, the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.