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Twelve Days of Christmas Explained
by Art Schnatterly
12/19/11
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There is one Christmas Carol that has always seemed strange. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit:
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
-The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your history for today. That is how a strange song became
a Christmas Carol.
Merry (Twelve Days of) Christmas!

My additions:

As most are aware, King Henry VII split from the Roman Catholic Church over his marital problems. He established the Church of England (Anglican Church) and installed himself as the head of the church. (Now Henry was certainly a pious man, right?)

The practice of Roman Catholicism was banned in England. The penalty was up to and including death! So Catholics found ways to practice their faith in secret.

We’ve seen this repeated time and again throughout history. The Jews in ancient Israel and in Spain during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. Christians during the 1st – 3rd centuries AD. Jews and Christians in the USSR. People in China today!

In some ways, this carol is like what John did in the Book of Revelation. The symbolism (described as code words above) would be well-known to insiders, but nonsense to outsiders. In John’s writings, the insiders were Jewish/Christians with intimate knowledge of the Old Testament. The outsiders were the Romans.

It inability to openly practice their faith was a major reason for the colonization of North America. The recognized need for this freedom was one of the things leading to the American Revolution. This freedom was so important to our democracy that “freedom OF religion” is included in the 1st Amendment in our Bill or Rights.

In the USA today we find many pressures to remove God from our history and from our daily lives. Many feel that they can only practice their faith in private.

I pray that Christians NEVER have to resort to the private (insider) symbolism and use of code words to worship our All-Powerful, Loving God.

Shalom, Art
Alive in The Word

If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW

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