December 30, 2008
I once heard a lady say, "I hate Christmas! It’s so much work, and it’s all over in one day!" Obviously, she wasn’t thinking of lofty spiritual matters. She was thinking about cooking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping, decorating, etc. I can sympathize. If you think of Christmas Day as the end of Christmas, it really is a lot of work for a one day blow-out followed by an inevitable let-down.
I’m glad my mother believed in the twelve days of Christmas. For her, Christmas Day was not an ending, it was a beginning - the first day of Christmas, followed by eleven relaxing, stress-free days after all the work of preparation was done. Some of my best childhood memories are of the days after Christmas Day. We sewed doll clothes, read books, and baked cookies.
Every year I usually purchase a new book of Advent readings in an effort to observe the real meaning of Christmas. This year my purchase was A Family Advent (Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2008). I learned something new about that most annoying of Christmas songs, The Twelve Days of Christmas.
I think everybody knows that at various times in history Protestants have persecuted Catholics and Catholics have persecuted Protestants. Roman Catholics were not allowed to practice their religion in England from 1558 to 1829. Being a practicing Catholic was a crime. The Twelve Days of Christmas was a little ditty originally designed to help Catholics learn certain things about the Bible. There was an underground symbolism.
1. The partridge in a pear tree stood for Our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Two turtle doves represented the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens were faith, hope, and charity.
4. Four calling birds were the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
5. Five golden rings stood for the Torah - the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
6. Six geese a-laying were the six days of creation.
7. Seven swans a swimming were the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick.
8. Eight maids a-milking represented the eight beatitudes (Matthew 5)
9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
10. Ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping represented the eleven faithful disciples.
12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of faith in the Apostles’ Creed.
Go ahead and admit it. You thought this was a silly, nonsense song. So did I. Next Christmas when you find your nerves in a frazzled state due to an overdose of The Twelve Days of Christmas, be comforted in the knowledge that this song served a higher purpose. And, if you’ll put your little gray cells to work and memorize the symbolism, it can still serve a higher purpose.
So - if you’re in a blue mood because you think Christmas is over and all you got was a lot of work and a headache, think again. This is only the sixth day of Christmas, and somewhere there are six geese a-laying. So cheer up! There’s still plenty of time to bask in the joyful meaning of the season. Have a glass of eggnog, a cup of cocoa, or something a wee bit stronger. Now, what are seven swans a-swimming?