What’s Up w/the Partridge & Pear Tree?

What’s your favorite Christmas carol? It’s hard for me to pick just one. I grew up in a family that sang in the choir and went caroling through the neighborhood with a group each year, so I love Christmas music. I sing along (out of earshot from others, mind you) every chance I get. One of my all-time favorite classics is the “12 Days of Christmas” sung by John Denver and the Muppets. It may be old, but I still love the chutzpah of Miss Piggy, especially at the end of the song.

I was talking to my boyfriend about Christmas songs the other day. And to my absolute surprise, he didn’t know the words to the 12 Days of Christmas! How is that possible? He’s a musician! And then I realized that there are a lot of people that didn’t grow up listening to Christmas carols and haven’t memorized every word to every song.

Sad but true.

What’s also true is that even for someone like me who can sing every word to the carols (whether in tune or not), I don’t always know the true meaning of the song.

Like my favorite 12 Days of Christmas. Until last week, I never knew there was underlying meaning!

Here’s what I found out. There are two disputing camps: one that says the song means nothing and one that says it does. Go figure. The camp that says this carol does have meaning says this: From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England weren’t permitted to practice their faith openly. So this old folk song was written to help children remember the tenets of their faith.

The hidden meaning of the gifts given by “My True Love” are:

– The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ
– Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments
– Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
– Four calling birds are the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
– Five gold rings reference the Torah (aka the Law) which are the first five books of the Old Testament
– Six geese a-laying are the six days of creation
– Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Contributing to the needs of others, Leadership and Mercy (Romans 12:6-8)
– Eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes, i.e. “Blessed are…” (Matthew 5:3-10)
– Nine ladies dancing are the nine Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22-23)
– Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments
– Eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful disciples
– Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed


Whether this was an English folk song used to teach children about their faith or not, I’ll never listen to or sing it flippantly again.

This song will bring my thoughts back to the true meaning of Christmas.

My True Love, God, has given us a precious gift above all others. Each verse in the 12 days comes back to one gift: the partridge in the pear tree. Jesus Christ. The baby in a manger. Our Savior who lived, died and rose again for you and for me.

As we go through the 12 days of Christmas, may we remember what we’re celebrating. New life. New hope. A new relationship with God.

On the ___ day of Christmas my True Love gave to me… and a partridge in a pear tree!

“But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NLT)

May I pray?

Jesus, sometimes You get overlooked in Christmas. Even though “Christ” is the base of “Christmas”, our thoughts get caught up in gifts and songs and celebrations. Not You. Forgive us, Lord, for not putting You first in our holiday. Help us as we go through this year’s 12 days of Christmas to turn our thoughts and praise back to You. You are the reason for the season. May we rejoice that our True Love gave us such a precious gift. Amen.

Q4U: What’s your favorite Christmas carol and why?


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