The twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days between Christmas (December 25) and the Epiphany (January 6th), which is when the three Magi arrived with Gold, Frankenscense and Myrrh.
Most people know of The Twelve Days of Christmas from the song of that name.
It is more than just a list of twelve silly gifts. Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829 were prohibited by law to practice their faith either in public or private. It was illegal to be Catholic. [Note: Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England in 1829.]
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith. In short, it was a memory aid. Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, young catholics could sing the song without fear of imprisonment. The authorities would not know that it was a religious song. Actually, the catecism to which it referred was rather ecumenical so they could claim to be protestant if cornered.
The song's gifts had hidden meanings to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, but it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. i.e. the Church. The partridge in a pear tree is Christ Jesus, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."
Here is a complete list of the 12 symbols with their meanings:
A Partridge in a pear tree = The One true God revealed in the person
of Christ Jesus
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch" which contains the law condemning us of our sins.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
This page was originally written by Bill Drennon, See his original rendition and his other fine work at the Central Valey Christian School's Christmas page.