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Submitted on
December 26, 2012


14 (who?)

Merry Christmas

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 7:01 AM
  • Mood: Neutral
  • Listening to: Adventures in Odyssey
An e-mail I got about what I thought was a baffling song :-)

There  is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. 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?

This  week, I found out.

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. This knowledge was shared with me and I  found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange  song became a Christmas pass it on if you wish.'

Merry  Christmas Everyone


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glitcher Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Funny you should mention this. I was having a debate with my sister on the origins of this song as well, since she wanted to use it as the theme for the table numbers at her wedding. Apparently the original version of 'four calling birds' is 'four colly birds', which is another name for a blackbird. And the five gold(en) rings are not actually jewelry, but a reference to a ring-necked pheasant. This means that the first seven verses of the song are all about birds. Strewth!
Sihayo Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!
shibamage Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I've heard of this before. The underlying meaning made this piece make sense to me, too. :) The backstory about the Catholics is false, though.

The Roman Catholics were not persecuted for their faith. In 1558, Protestant persecution ended (with the death of Bloody Mary); Roman Catholic persecution did not begin. In 1558, when Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, religious freedom was promoted.

Furthermore, there is nothing about the underlying meaning which Protestants do not accept.

That's a short summary of a longer piece by Dr. Peter Hammond (a missionary and historian) debunking this story.
Tazi-san Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
*Edit* Deleted history for now until further notice. I don't want to spread false history.
Tazi-san Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Sure, thanks for the info. I kind of take Catholic sources with a grain of salt so I will update with proper history if you can give me a source. At least we got a breakdown of the song. Thanks!
shibamage Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
No problem. Unfortunately I don't have a source for the real history of the song (just a source for why the commonly-spread history is false); it would be interesting to know where it came from!

If it's from before it was common for people to read, maybe it was invented for the ordinary people to remember the religious meanings (in the same way the scenes depicted on stained glass windows were used to teach/remind people of Biblical events). Just my speculation though.
NetRaptor Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Student Digital Artist
Oh wow! I knew I'd read this somewhere a long time ago, but I couldn't remember what they all stood for. To think that the only way everybody knows it now is a silly, nonsensical song. :-)
aurora-cs Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I remember finding that online when I was making a christmas card to enter a magazine competition and thought it would be interesting to have it on the back since the contest was to make one based on the song.
lokobookworm95 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012
That's really cool!
Gloria-The-Glorious Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
And all this time I just thought it was a goofy song to sing for fun.
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