On the 12 Days of Christmas

“Twelfth Night (The King Drinks)…”


The Scribe left town at 5:00 on the afternoon of Sunday December 21, thinking that he had already published this post on the “12 Days of Christmas.”  But somewhere along the line he dropped the ball – metaphorically or otherwise – and here it is, Sunday, January 4th.

So here in its original form is the post I planned to publish two weeks ago…

*   *   *   *

I’m heading north to face the icy arctic blasts of Yankee-land for Christmas.  I need to cover the week or so until my return, so here’s an ode to the “12 days of Christmas.”  That’s both a festive Christian season and title of a host of songs and spin-offs (including one on a Mustang GT):

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God.  This period is also known as Christmastide…   The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus.  In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.

See Twelve days of Christmas, which is included within the article The Twelve Days of Christmas (song) – Wikipedia.  The song began as an English Christmas Carol – thought to be of French origin – first published in 1780.  It’s a “cumulative song,” meaning each verse “is built on top of the previous verses.”   Each verse describes a gift from “my true love” on one of the 12 days of Christmas.   And as most people know – by hearing them ad nauseum starting weeks before Thanksgiving – there are “many variations in the lyrics.”

One common theory is that the original lyrics were part of a “secret Catholic code:”

In 1979, a Canadian hymnologist, Hugh D. McKellar, published an article, “How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas”, claiming that [the] lyrics were intended as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith…  McKellar offered no evidence for his claim and subsequently admitted that the purported associations were his own invention.  The idea was further popularized by a Catholic priest, Fr. Hal Stockert, in an article he wrote in 1982…   In 1987 and 1992, Fr. James Gilhooley, chaplain of Mount Saint Mary College of Newburgh, New York, repeated these claims.   None of the enumerated items would distinguish Catholics from Protestants, and so would hardly need to be secretly encoded.

See Twelve Days (above), and also 12 Things You Might Not Know About “The Twelve Days”.  The latter noted the story that “from the 16th to the 19th century, when being a Catholic was a crime in Protestant England,” Catholic children used the song to learn their faith.

But for one thing, all 12 gifts in the code – “the books of the Bible, the six days of creation, etc.” – were revered by Protestants as much as they were by Catholics.  “For another thing, this rumor seems to have popped up in the last 25 years, and then spread like wildfire, as such things do, on the interwebs [sic], without reference to any original sources.”  (On a related noted, see On “Gone Girl” and Lazy Cusses – Part I, about things “spreading like wildfire” in today’s media, with the Biblical example of the Apostle Paul almost being lynched by rioters in Jerusalem.)

I discussed the festival of the 12 Days of Christmas back on November 21, in On coming home from a pilgrimage and the coming holidays.  That post included such topics as the “old-time winter festival that started on Halloween and ends on January 6, also called Plough Monday.”  It also discussed the fact that Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night “expanded on the musical interludes and riotous disorder expected of the occasion,” that is, the “occasion of the ‘drunken revelry’ of 12th Night,” as shown by the King drinks painting above.


So here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous 12th Night, Plough Monday, and/or whole New Year!


“Plough Monday,” which ends the full Season of Christmas, on January 6…



The upper image is courtesy of The Twelve days of Christmas, with caption, “Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) by David Teniers c. 1634-1640.”

The lower image is courtesy of Plough Monday – The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.  See also Plough Monday – Wikipedia.

*  On the subject of meditating on the Bible, see for example Psalm 1:2, “Their delight is in the law of the Lordand they meditate on His law day and night;”  Psalm 77:12, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds;”  Psalm 119:15, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways;”  Psalm 119:23, “The evil have been sitting and plotting against me, but I have been meditating upon your commandments;”  and Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”

Incidentally, Psalm 119 – where three of the five quotes above came from – “is the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible…    It is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law.  With its 176 verses, Psalm 119 has more verses than 14 Old Testament Books and 17 New Testament Books.”  See Psalm 119 – Wikipedia.


Sources for this post include Twelve Days of Christmas (song) – Wikipedia and The Twelve days of Christmas added that many different saint feast days fall within the twelve days of Christmas, “but they are not part of the Twelve Days themselves…   St. Stephen’s Day, for example, is 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church.  28 December is Childermas/Feast of the Holy Innocents.”  In Great Britain and it’s “former colonies, 26 December is also known as Boxing Day, a secular holiday.”  Finally, the “12 Days” are celebrated differently throughout the world:  “Some give gifts only on Christmas Day, some only on Twelfth Night, and some each of the twelve nights.” 

See also December solstice – Time and Date:  “Even Christmas celebrations are closely linked to the observance of the December solstice.”  For example, “Although winter was regarded as the season of dormancy, darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood.  To many people, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate that nature’s cycle was continuing.”  Further, “Some believe that celebrating the birth of the ‘true light of the world’ was set in synchronization with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days began to have more daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.”  Note too that the term Yule “may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival.”

And finally – for the sake of completeness – see Jeff Foxworthy – Redneck 12 Days Of Christmas Lyrics, and/or 12 Redneck Days of Christmas by Jeff Foxworthy – YouTube.




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