What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? Well, from 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to participate their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church: each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember.
The “Partridge in a Pear Tree” was Jesus Christ
The “Two Turtledoves” were the Old and New Testaments
The “Three French Hens” stood for Faith, Hope, and Love
The “Four Calling Birds” were for the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
The “Five Golden Rings” recalled the Torah, or Law: the first five books of the Old Testament
The “Six Geese a-Laying” stood for the six days of creation
The “Seven Swans a-Swimming” represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control
The “Eight Maids a-Milking” were the eight Beatitudes
The “Nine Ladies Dancing” were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
The “Ten Lords a-Leaping” were the 10 Commandments
The “Eleven Pipers Piping” stood for the 11 faithful disciples
The “Twelve Drummers Drumming” symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed.
This Knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how a strange song became a Christmas Carol. I pray you have a blessed holiday season.
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