Sometimes I worry
the way our country is headed,
worshiping as Christians
and teaching our children
is not only getting harder and harder,
but heading to scary territory.
What would we do if we were forbidden to practice our faith and if we did would be arrested and tried for breaking the law, perhaps murdered for it. This post is about the writing of a Christmas carol which was done in code to protect the message given, as well as the receivers.
It sounds a little bit like our time is headed there, as we have to take down public crosses or nativities and not use the word “Christmas.” God is what makes our country the way it is! I worry we are being forced to put him aside, even though He and His values is what makes this country what it is.
This is what happened in the 16th century and was the reason for the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. This was not a silly, novelty song with nonsensical lyrics. This was written as a secret message to Christian people (Catholics) when they were forbidden to worship, and went “underground” to hold secret masses, and hide the signs of their faith. They wanted to teach a message, specifically to the children, but if anything were written, it could cost the lives of the writer, so they invented a song which seemed to be fun, and nonsensical, and place deep messages of faith which would be hidden from the law, but taught to the children. They based it on an illogical love of bearing gifts, yet nothing could have been further than the truth. The gifts were the code.
Here is the message broken after all these years:
Every child was taught that only pure and true love comes from God. So from the beginning of the The Twelve Days of Christmas the song was based on heavenly love, not really about a boy’s crush on a girl. That was the cover.
1. The importance of Christ’s death and resurrection was the anchor to the faith–and so with each new verse this thought is repeated over and over. The partridge in a pear tree represents courage and devotion above what man ever showed on earth. A mother partridge lures enemies away from her defenseless chicks in order to protect them. Just as she sacrifices her own life for her children, so did Christ for us. The pear tree symbolizes the cross and together this first gift represents the ultimate gift given by the babe born on Christmas Day.
2. The second gift, 2 turtle doves stood to represent the Old and New Testament of the Bible together. Doves are symbols of truth and peace, and reinforced the tie to Christ and Christmas.
3. The third gift, 3 French hens, for the times represented a very lavish meal presented before a king. No one but the royal ate French hens during this time. So the three lavish gifts represent the three gifts to the baby Jesus from the wise men; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
4. The fourth gift, 4 calling birds stood as the authors of the Gospels that trumpeted the story of Jesus Christ and told about his life and ministry from birth to death. In a very real sense, the 4 calling birds names are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
5. The five golden rings stood for the five books of the Old testament, also known as the “law of Moses” and Jews refer to as the “Torah.” These gifts remind the singer of not only man’s fall from grace due to sin, but the fact that a Savior would come to offer salvation and a path back to God.
6. The sixth gift, 6 geese a-laying might seem comical but for the people during the time of fruition, understood and felt it was completely logical. The Lord made the world in six days. The eggs are the symbol for new life and creation, so the geese laying eggs presented the world the story of God’s hand in the creation of life.
7. The seventh gift, 7 swans a-swimming, seemed a mystery. But for English life, swans were considered the most graceful and beautiful fowl. The seven gifts were the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Romans 12:6-8. These gifts were prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy–and when you walked with God, the gifts of the spirit moved in your life as easily as a calm swan on water.
8. The eighth gift, 8 maids a-milking represents the common man whom Christ had come to serve and save. No job in England, at this time, was lower than working with cattle or in a barn. For a female servant to be used in this was indicated that she was of little worth to her master. Yet, Christ, served people without the regard to status, race, sex, or creed. The number 8 also represented the beatitudes listed in Matthew 5:3-10. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemaker, and the righteous.
9. The ninth gift, nine ladies dancing teaches the real true joy in serving Christ and the image of ladies dancing shows this picture. The 9 fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
10. The tenth gift, ten Lord’s a-leaping, represent the 10 Commandments. Since a Lord was supposed to be a just and honorable man and the final voice of law in his domain, it is understandable why ten lords were chosen to represent God’s ten laws he gave His people.
11. The eleventh gift, eleven pipers piping, represents the 11 apostles who embraced Christ and his message of salvation and took the message out to the world. Remember one of the apostles betrayed Him, so he is not included in sending out the glad message.
12. The twelfth gift, twelve drummers drumming represent a confessional that Catholic’s called, at this time, “The apostles creed” which contained a dozen different elements about their belief of Jesus Christ. The drum was “probably” used as a symbol of peace and rhythmic is learning the creed.
Today, four hundred years later, this song is still sung as a merry Christmas tune, with no thought of the real meaning behind the words. I didn’t know! But for the people of the time, this was a matter of spiritual life and death, and it was important enough for them to keep Christ in their hearts and to continue through generations.
I am not Catholic. I am a Mormon. But this is why I choose to be brave and mention Jesus Christ in my blog posts. I feel nervous to do so. My devotion and faith is very private and precious to my heart and soul. But I am finding that there are all different types of Christians out there who believe in Jesus Christ just as strongly as I do, and that even if the names of our faiths differ, we can stand together and be a force for defending God, religion and freedom, just as the people did in the sixth century if we have to!
Thank you writers of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and for all others who have stood up for Jesus Christ! I hope I am counted in that group!
Ace Collin. Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas. Michigan. Zondervan, 2001 pp. 169-175