In Margaret Edythe Young’s collection of cards there are a large number that deal with Christmas – so many in fact that we had to divide them into three posts. The first set is the “greeting” cards which still, mercifully, wish the recipient a Merry or Joyous Christmas – none of the happy holidays treacle which puts everything from the winter solstice to contemporary celebrations by savages on an equal footing.
There is an interpretation of the Twelve Days of Christmas that holds that it was a French Carol converted to cathechetical uses by the English where from 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics were not permitted to practice their faith openly. It has two levels of meaning the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of The Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember. This interpretation does not enjoy universal support with those who would claim wisdom clucking and nodding their heads and doubting. In a season of glad tiding we are grateful to report that not everyone is wise and some still believe in the Babe and rejoice in anything that helps that belief. So, without apology, and in celebration we offer the following explanation for your Christmas reflections.
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen [doth gather] her brood under [her] wings, and ye would not!”(Luke 13:34)
Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.
Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.”(1 Corinthians 13:13)
Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.
Five Gold Rings – The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch:
1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.
Six Geese A-laying
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, [it was] very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31).A snowy scene mailed from Houston
Seven Swans A-swimming – the gifts of the Holy Ghost
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another [divers] kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
Eight Maids A-milking – The eight Beatitudes:
Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed [are] the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.(Matthew 5:3-11)
Nine Ladies Dancing – The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.(Galatians 5:22-23)
Ten Lords A-leaping – The ten commandments:
2 I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of the LORD thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates:
11 For [in] six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them [is], and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s.(Exodus 20:1-17)
Eleven Pipers Piping – The eleven Faithful Apostles:
1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.
Twelve Drummers Drumming – the tenets of the Christian Creed
1. I believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.
2. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being [substance] with the Father. Through him all things were made.
3. For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made truly human.
4. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried.
5. On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end..
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. With the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
9. I believe in one, Holy, Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
10. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
11. I look for the resurrection of the dead,
12. and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Twelve Days of Christmas end with the Feast of the Epiphany. The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King.
A long time ago someone set forth the simple proposition that it did not matter if you were a Christian or not but if you lived by the precepts laid down in Sacred Scripture you would enjoy a good life. Of course the problem with this simplification is that if you live by the precepts laid down in Sacred Scripture you can not help but be a Christian. It is something of the same thing with this song – you can admit its message, use it and benefit from it or you can dismiss it as just another piece of holiday music and put it in the same category as “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” but that leaves you with an awfully empty Christmas – not the kind that the people who sent these cards celebrated.