As a child I often had a countdown to Christmas. Every year I would make a paper chain. Each chain link symbolized one day. And every morning I would cut off one link from the chain. As the chain got shorter, I knew Christmas Day was getting closer.

Many people believe that the 12 days of Christmas are like that chain. But that’s not true. The 12 days of Christmas are not a countdown to Christmas Day, but rather, they begin on Christmas Day. In the Christian Church, Christmas is not just a day, but a season that lasts for 12 days. It begins on Christmas Day and ends on January 5th. The next day (January 6th) begins the season of Epiphany.

There is a song that reminds us that Christmas lasts for 12 days. The song “the Twelve Days of Christmas” by most accounts is a secular song. However, some have suggested that it really was a religious song. The story is told that it was written during a time of religious persecution. Therefore, to teach the truths of Scripture, they hid the scriptural meanings in a song that they could teach to their children. The suggested hidden meanings are as follows:

  • 12 Drummers Drumming (the 12 essential truths in the Creed that keep Christians moving forward steadily in the faith)
  • 11 Pipers piping (the 11 apostles [not including Judas] proclaiming the Gospel to the world)
  • 10 Lords a-leaping (The 10 Commandments – Exodus 20)
  • 9 Ladies dancing (The 9-fold “fruit of the Spirit” –  Galatians 5:22-23)
  • 8 Maids a-milking (The 8 Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-10)
  • 7 Swans a-swimming (The 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit – Romans 12:6-8)
  • 6 Geese a-laying (The 6 days of Creation – Genesis 1)
  • 5 Five golden rings (The 5 books of Moses)
  • 4 Calling birds (The 4 Gospels of Scripture)
  • 3 French hens (The 3 precious virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love; or the three gifts of the Magi)
  • 2 Turtle doves (The Old and New Testaments)
  • And a Partridge in a pear tree (Jesus enduring our pain on the cross)

By most accounts that I have read, it appears that this was probably not the original intended meaning of the song. However, it does serve as an interesting way to remind ourselves of Christian truths. But most of all, may this song remind us that Christmas is not just a day, but it is a 12 day season where we recall the birth of Jesus who would one day die on the cross to win for us forgiveness and salvation.


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