The Myth of the 12 Days of Christmas

The following is an article from the book Uncle John's Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.

 (Image credit: Xavier Romero-Frias)

Secret codes and urban legends- Uncle John’s idea of a perfect combination!


There’s been a story going around for years that the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which seems like a nonsense song, actually contains coded teachings of Catholicism. It was written, the story says, during England’s anti-Catholic era, after King Henry VIII split with the Catholic Church and founded the Anglican Church in the 1500s. The open practice of Catholicism did become illegal in England, and remained illegal until the Emancipation Act of 1829. During that era one could be imprisoned or even executed for being Catholic. To avoid such punishment and preserve the faith,, the story continues, some clever Jesuit priests wrote the song, with each day’s “gifts” representing the  Catechism -the essential teachings of the Church.   


* The “true love” that is giving the gifts, the story says, is God.

* The “partridge in a pear tree” represents Jesus Christ.

* Two turtle doves: the Old and New Testaments.

* Three French hens: the Holy Trinity; or the three Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity.

* Four calling birds: the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

* Five golden rings: the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch.

* 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.

* Ten lords a-leaping: the Ten Commandments.

* Eleven pipers piping: the eleven “good” disciples (Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, isn’t included).

* Twelve drummers drumming: the 12 points of doctrine of the Apostle’s creed.


The story has been widely spread, especially on the internet, and is taken by many to be fact. The only problem: there’s no historical evidence to support it. And there’s a lot of logic to refute it.

* All the “hidden” teachings except one wouldn’t have to be hidden at all -they are common to both religions. There would be no reason a Catholic would hide the Old and New Testaments behind “two turtle doves” -since Anglicans follow the two testaments as well. The same is true for all the other gifts except for the sacraments: Catholics have seven; Anglicans just two.

* If the song was written to secretly teach religious tenets, why would it be a Christmas song, which would be sung only at Christmas? How would they teach the Catechism the rest of the year?

* What some people believe happened is that through the years, the song was mixed up with a more openly religious song about the twelve days of Christmas. “A New Dial,” also known as “In Those Twelve Days,” dates to at least 1625, and is remarkably similar to “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It has one verse for each day, and in some cases the exact same subject matter: two for the two testaments, three for the Holy Trinity, and so on.

* Many people still believe that the song is a secret Catholic code. One of their arguments: there’s no solid proof that the song isn’t the secret teaching device they believe it to be -so we really can’t know for sure. That’s what legends are made of. Either way- it’s still a nice song and kids all over the world love it.

So when are the twelve days of Christmas? They’re after Christmas, not before. They start on Christmas Day and end with the Feast of Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated on January 6.

(YouTube link)



The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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