The twelve days of Christmas occur between December 25th and January 6th and are celebrated in a number of interesting ways, depending on the culture.
As to the carol of the same name, it has a popular mythology around it. Snopes.com has already debunked the idea that the song was a secret code for persecuted Catholics but crivoice.org gives the tale the benefit of the doubt.
Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God’s grace, through one more avenue this Christmas.
No, I think this history of this is very important. History has shown that promoters of Christianity steamrolled over a lot of pagan beliefs and other faiths and are fond of taking secular ideas, like this silly love song, and injecting their own kind of symbolism into it to make it acceptable entertainment for the devout.
There’s another theory that might have more to do with reality – they could have evolved from a game children used to play.
Leigh Grant, in his book ‘Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration and History’, says the words from The Twelve Days of Christmas song first appeared in a book titled ‘Mirth without Mischief’ published in 1780s in England. The words were part of a memory and forfeits game played by children at that time. The leader recited the first verse, the next child recited the second verse, and this continued until someone missed his or her verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game. (The tune to the song is thought to date back much further and possibly originated from France.)
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” became popular at the “Twelfth night parties” that took place in the Christmas season.
Which reminds me. I’ve never seen Twelfth Night.
It’s a song that’s also been parodied a few times – Jeff Foxworthy’s 12 Redneck Days is pretty good, but the one I liked better used to be on local radio stations at Christmas time. Meg In The City tracked the lyrics down somewhere for Metro’s Ukrainian 11 Days from Christmas:
On the 11th day from Christmas, my Missus gave for me:
Eleven pails of borscht (beet soup)
10 pounds chesnak (garlic)
9 months pregnant
8 all my supper
7 four by two slabs
5 golden rings of kobasa (kielbasa…sausage)
4 holuptchi (cabbage rolls…)
3 rubber boots
and a bowl of sour cream for me
Much obliged for that. I couldn’t remember the whole thing. I couldn’t even remember who sung it. I don’t think I’ve heard it since I was 10 or so. There’s also Bob and Doug McKenzie’s version, but I really hate those hosers. So instead I leave you with the charming John Denver with the Muppet Cast (albeit badly recorded):