It’s a famous Christmas song, but do you know what “The 12 Days of Christmas” is really all about? Tim Gibson has the lowdown
By Tim Gibson
For many, it is regarded as one of the most annoying Christmas songs of all time. But there’s no denying that “The 12 Days of Christmas” has a catchy tune that makes it a likely earworm during the festive season.
|One of the most popular theories about the song is that it’s a secret code,...|
Few of us can remember the gifts given by the singer’s “true love” on each of the 12 days of Christmas. But that’s not really the point, because the internet is full of attempts to decode this most famous of Christmas carols.
One of the most popular theories about the song is that it’s a secret code, enabling Roman Catholics to articulate the bases of their faith even while they were being persecuted.
According to this theory, each of the gifts relates to an element of Christian teaching or faith, with a particularly Catholic spin. The idea is that it enabled dissident Roman Catholics to express their faith and pass it on, without fear of being lynched.
Here’s what each gift relates to, according to the theory:
Sounds persuasive, doesn’t it? But myth-busting website Snopes has been quick to pour cold water on the theory, citing the obvious argument that, as it turns out, Roman Catholics weren’t especially persecuted when the song was written (most likely in the 19th Century).
Or, to be more precise, it says that the differences in emphasis between Roman Catholics and Anglicans are not drawn out by the song’s supposed symbolism: anything referenced by the song’s “code” would have been uncontroversial for any Christian to believe, whether Catholic or Protestant.
|...it’s unlikely a bafflingly complex song would be developed just to communicate this difference in emphasis between believers.|
Actually, that’s not quite right. For example, a big dividing line between Catholics and Protestants was the number of sacraments, with the former believing there are seven (fits with the song), and many in the latter camp acknowledging only two (baptism and holy communion).
That said, it’s unlikely a bafflingly complex song would be developed just to communicate this difference in emphasis between believers. And, as Snopes points out, without some knowledge among listeners of the theological tenet to which each gift refers (which would presumably involve further, more overt instruction), the Catholic faith wouldn’t effectively be passed on using this method.
We can probably put to bed the idea that this carol has some hidden Christian meaning, therefore. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a Christian song. It’s about Christmas, duh? Doesn’t come more Christian than that.
And, of course, the 12 days relate to the liturgical season of Christmas, starting on Christmas Day and ending with the Feast of Epiphany on 6 January, which marks the arrival of the three magi to the stable.
So, we can say with confidence that “The 12 Days of Christmas” is Christian, even though the argument that it contains a secret theological code lacks weight.
Oh, and it’s a nice song about birds and stuff.
© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd
Published: 23 December 2019
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