Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Catechism Lesson

There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. Who in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge that won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

This week, I found out.

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: how that strange song became a Christmas Carol.
Sent by Bro. Noel De Bruton, S.D.B


Shirley said...

I made a coloring/activity book for my Religious Education class based on this! The only thing different was I used Blessed Trinity for 3 and Liturgical Seasons for 6.

Makes listening to the song more tolerable now, doesn't it?!

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia and Snopes both report that you are likely propagating a falsehood: The meaning of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," if it has any, has yet to be satisfactorily explained. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, "Suggestions have been made that the gifts have significance, as representing the food or sport for each month of the year. Importance [certainly has] long been attached to the Twelve Days, when, for instance, the weather on each day was carefully observed to see what it would be in the corresponding month of the coming year. Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate origin of the chant, it seems probable [that] the lines that survive today both in England and France are merely an irreligious travesty."[2] A bit of modern folklore claims that the song's lyrics were written as a "catechism song" to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England (1558 until 1829). There is no substantive primary evidence supporting this claim, and no evidence that the claim is historical, or "anything but a fanciful modern day speculation."[1] In fact, variations in lyrics provide evidence against the "catechism song" origin. For example, the four Gospels are often described as the "four calling birds," when in fact the phrase "calling birds" is a modern (probably 20th century) phonetic misunderstanding of "colly birds" (blackbirds)
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