Greatest Gift: A Partridge in a Pear Tree

What’s your favorite Christmas carol? I can’t pick just one because many carols bear fond memories of my dad. Each year growing up, my family sang in church choirs and caroled through neighborhoods with a large group of singers. Today, I still sing along every chance I get (out of earshot from others, mind you).

One of my all-time favorite classics is the “12 Days of Christmas” as sung by John Denver and the Muppets. Corny, maybe. But it always ignites a smile. And you can’t deny the endearing chutzpah of Miss Piggy. For Christmas carol junkies like me, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Recently, I found out that a dear friend of mine doesn’t know the words to 12 Days of Christmas! How is that possible? He’s a musician! But then I realized that many people didn’t grow up singing Christmas carols and never had the opportunity to memorize every word to every song.

Sad but true.

Also true: Even for someone like me who can sing every word to the carols (whether in tune or not), I don’t always know the full message.

Like 12 Days of Christmas. All those years singing its catchy lyrics and I never knew the meaning behind the words!

Here’s what I found out. There are two disputing camps: one says the song means nothing and one says it does. Go figure. The camp affirming this carol’s intrinsic meaning indicates that in post-Reformation England, Roman Catholics were prevented from openly practicing their faith. So this old folk song helped children remember tenets of their faith.

The hidden meaning of the gifts given by “my True Love” (God) are:

  • A partridge in a pear tree – Jesus Christ
  • Two turtle doves – the Old and New Testaments
  • Three French hens – faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
  • Four calling birds – the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  • Five gold rings – the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament)
  • Six geese a-laying – the six days of creation before the first Sabbath rest
  • Seven swans a-swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy (Romans 12:6-8)
  • Eight maids a-milking – the eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, mourning, humble, oppressed, merciful, pure-hearted, peacemaking, persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10)
  • Nine ladies dancing – the nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Ten lords a-leaping – the Ten Commandments
  • Eleven pipers piping – the eleven faithful disciples
  • Twelve drummers drumming – the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed

Each verse in the song comes back to one gift: the partridge in a pear tree. Jesus Christ. The baby in a manger. Our Savior who came quietly into the world to offer full forgiveness and restoration with our True Love, God. Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

Whether or not this folk song taught children about their faith, it can teach all of us to pause and consider the blessed gifts we’ve been given as children of God.

And one gift stands above them all: Christ.

Jesus is the gift we celebrate this Christmas season. In Him alone we find hope, everlasting love, and new life. May we sing praise to our True Love and His Son Jesus this Christmas!

“But to all who have received Him––those who believe in His name––He has given the right to become God’s children.” John 1:12 (NET)

May I pray?

Jesus, sometimes You’re overlooked at Christmas. Even though “Christ” is the root of “Christmas”, we often get caught up in gifts and songs and celebrations instead of You. As we go through this year’s 12 days of Christmas, help us to turn our thoughts and praise to You. You’re the reason for the season. May we rejoice in our True Love who has given us the greatest gift of all. Amen.

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