Monday, December 10, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We all know how terribly secularized Christmas has become, and with each passing year it seems that there is no way to cast off the materialism and return that day to what it once stood for.

So once again, Christians must go underground to preserve the true meaning of Christmas (something every holiday special on television speaks of but never really discovers). The march to secularize every symbolism and make meaningless every tradition goes ever on, but there are ways one can resist. I relate a tale of such a resistance. The story is probably apocryphal, but it is an encouraging and heartwarming one nonetheless:

During the English Reformation, Catholics in England were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law in public or private. It is said that the delightful nonsense rhyme, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written as one of the catechism songs to help young Catholics learn the tenets of the faith - as to be caught with anything in writing indicating even remote adherence to the Catholic faith would warrant serious punishment.

The gifts in the song are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song does not refer to any earthly suitor, but to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refer to every baptised person. The symbols in the song mean the following:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree = Christ as the partridge, the cross as the pear tree
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = The three gifts of the Magi, Faith, Hope, and Charity (the theological virtues), or the three Persons of the Trinity
4 Calling Birds = The Four Gospels/Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament)
6 Geese A-laying = The six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit or the seven sacraments
8 Maids A -milking = The eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = The Ten Commandments
11 Pipers Piping = The eleven faithful Apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = The twelve articles in the Apostles' Creed

Now, there are several flaws in this tale: the first, most obvious would be its use restricted only to Christmastime. How would such a song be useful then in aiding children to memorizing anything? Besides, these were basic articles of faith common to all denominations of Christianity; none of the aforementioned concepts would distinguish a Catholic from a Protestant.

In any case, the true meaning of this song has been lost to time. The author of this blog however, praises the anonymous one who accorded this song its meaning for his/her effort and time in reminding us once again that this holiday is a Christian one, and above all, the day "on which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world", as it says in the Apostolic Constitutions.

Research carried out indicated that it is possible that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was perhaps confused with a song called "A New Dial" or "In Those Twelve Days", a song, which unfortunately, has been lost to time as well. Dating back to at least 1625, it assigns meaning to each of the twelve days, though it is doubtful that it was used to teach catechism. I do not know how its tune goes, but it is nonetheless a most splendid ditty to commit to memory this Christmastime.

Here it goes:

What are they that are but one?
We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne.

What are they which are by two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true.

What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity.

What are they which are but four?
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ's birth, life, death which do declare

What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign.

What are they which are but six?
Six days to labour is not wrong,
For God Himself did work so long.

What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man's soul to crown.

What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven.

What are they which are but nine?
Nine muses, like the heaven's nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears.

What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save.

What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus' sake.

What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God's Son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial's done.

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