The 12 Days of Christmas Decoded!

Posted by on Dec 28, 2016 in God Moments | 0 comments

We’re all familiar with the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  But other than a silly party song where a quartet of friends gets make fools of themselves by squawking like “Calling Birds” (whatever they are), is there any spiritual significance in this song’s lyrics?

There are many versions of the origin and meaning of this song, but a spiritual application to each “gift” mentioned in this song can be made.  Back when this song was written, teaching “religion” to kids was made difficult, so this song became a teaching tool disguised as a “harmless” story about Christmas gifts. 

Here’s one way to “decode” the Twelve Days of Christmas…

First of all, the “true love” represents God and the “me” who receives these presents is the Christian.  The theme of this song isn’t that some rich guy is courting his girlfriend by lavishing expensive gifts on her, but it’s that God has lavished (and continues to lavish) costly gifts on each of us!

Here are the gifts and their meanings for each of the 12 days:

The “partridge in a pear tree” was Jesus Christ who died on a tree as a gift from God.
The “two turtle doves” were the Old and New Testaments – another gift from God.

The “three French hens” were faith, hope and love – the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (I Corinthians 13:8,13)…

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The “four calling birds” were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.

  1. Matthew
  2. Mark
  3. Luke
  4. John 
The “five golden rings” were the first five books of the Bible also called the “Books of Moses.”
  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
The “six geese a-laying” were the six days of creation.
  1. Light (Day and Night)
  2. Sky
  3. Land and Seas
  4. Stars
  5. Fish and Birds
  6. Land Animals (including Humans) 
The “seven swans a swimming” were the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a lot of overlap, and limiting it to Seven kinda forces the “story.”  But the Bible is clear that different people get different gifts in order to help the whole “body” (Church).  See I Corinthians 12:8-11; Romans 12, Ephesians 4; I Peter 4:10-11.  Here’s a list of 7 Gifts…

  1. Wisdom & Knowledge (1 Cor 12:8)
  2. Faith (1 Cor 12:9)
  3. Power & Healing (1 Cor 12:9)
  4. Prophecy & Distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor 12:10)
  5. Speaking in different Tongues and Interpretation (1 Cor 12:10)
  6. Serving & Encouraging (Romans 12:7, 8)
  7. Teaching and Leading (Romans 12:7, 8)
The “eight maids a milking” were the eight beatitudes.

The “Beatitudes” are Jesus’ “Blessed are the__”  statements which begin the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5 -7).

  1. Poor in Spirit- for their’s is the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:3)
  2. Those who Mourn- they will be comforted (Matt 5:4)
  3. The Meek- they will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5)
  4. Those who Hunger for Righteousness- they’ll be filled (Matt 5:6)
  5. The Merciful- they will be shown mercy (Matt 5:7)
  6. The Pure in Heart- they will see God (Matt 5:8)
  7. The Peacemakers- they will be called Sons of God (Matt 5:9)
  8. The Persecuted- theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:10) 

The “nine ladies dancing” were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Which are listed in Galatians 5:22 & 23)

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Patience
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-control 
The “ten lords a-leaping” were the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20:1-17 and also in Deuteronomy 5:7-21.  Here they are…

  1. Don’t worship any other gods
  2. Don’t make idols and worship things you made
  3. Don’t misuse the Name of the Lord your God
  4. Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (special)
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. Do not murder
  7. Do not commit adultery
  8. Don’t steal
  9. Don’t give false testimony against your neighbor (don’t lie!)
  10. Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff (or his wife!) 
The “eleven pipers piping” were the eleven faithful disciples (listed in Matthew 10:2, Acts 1:13, and in other places).

The list of “Faithful” disciples doesn’t include Judas (who betrayed Jesus).  It also doesn’t include Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas (in Acts 1:15-26).  Here are “The Eleven Faithful Disciples”…

  1. Simon (who is called Peter)
  2. Andrew (Peter’s brother)
  3. James (son of Zebedee)
  4. John (James’ brother and the author of several NT books)
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew
  7. Thomas (of “Doubting” renown)
  8. Matthew (the tax collector)
  9. James (son of Alphaeus)
  10. Thaddaeus
  11. Simon (the Zealot ) 
The “twelve drummers drumming” were the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed.

Organizing the points of the Apostles’ Creed into 12 points might be a bit random, but here’s the text in a list of 12 lines…

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, 
  3. who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
  4. was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
  5. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
  6. he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  8. the holy catholic Church,
  9. the communion of saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and the life everlasting.    Amen.  


So, the next time you hear “The 12 Days of Christmas”, consider how this otherwise non-religious sounding song had its origins in the Christian faith.

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