The history of the Christmas carol, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” isn’t entirely clear. The earliest known version dates back to 1780 in a children’s book titled Mirth With-out Mischief, but it had almost certainly been around for some time before that. According to, “Some historians think the song could be French in origin, but most agree it was designed as a ‘memory and forfeits’ game, in which singers tested their recall of the lyrics and had to award their opponents a ‘forfeit’ – a kiss or a favor of some kind – if they made a mistake.”

In Christian theology, the 12 days of Christmas run from Dec. 25 (the birth of Christ) to Jan. 6 (the coming of the Magi – the Epiphany or Three Kings Day). So one interpretation is that it was written as a “catechism song” to help Catholic children remember the tenets of their faith. It works like this…

The [Purported] Symbolism Behind “The 12 Days of Christmas” 

* “true love” = God

* “me” = the person who is baptized

* “partridge in a pear tree” = Jesus Christ

* “two turtle doves” = the Old and New Testaments

* “three French hens” = faith, hope, and charity

* “four calling birds” = the four gospels and/or the four evangelists

* “five golden rings” = the first five books of the Old Testament (the history of man’s fall from grace)

* “six geese a-laying” = the six days of creation

* “seven swans a-swimming” = the seven sacraments

* “eight maids a-milking” = the eight beatitudes

* “nine ladies dancing” = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit

* “10 lords a-leaping” = the Ten Commandments

* “11 pipers piping” = the 11 faithful apostles

* “12 drummers drumming” = the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

This, as I say, is one interpretation. It doesn’t especially work for me. I prefer to leave the symbols less doctrinaire. But if you like to think of them that way, there you have it.