Twelve Days of Christmas

Album: Christmas Classics (1780)

Songfacts®:

  • The date of this Christmas song's first performance is not known, though it was used in European and Scandinavian traditions as early as the 16th century. Some music historians believe that the "gifts" in the song carry secret meanings, possibly constructed by either 16th century Protestant Christians, or Roman Catholics who were being persecuted. One version of the hidden meanings is:

    The "partridge in a pear tree" is Jesus Christ
    The "two turtle doves" are the Old and New Testaments
    The "three French hens" are the three virtues, faith, hope, and love
    The "four calling birds" are the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
    Five golden rings" are the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch
    "Six geese a-laying" refer to the six days of the Creation
    Seven swans a-swimming" are the seven sacraments
    "Eight maids a-milking" are the eight Beatitudes
    "Nine ladies dancing" are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
    "Ten lords a' leaping" are the Ten Commandments
    "Eleven pipers piping" are the eleven faithful Apostles
    "Twelve drummers drumming" are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
  • This song has endured thanks to various comedic versions that have become popular over the years, in part because it's a traditional song that can be performed and recorded without obtaining rights. The first popular non-traditional take on the song was Richard Gregory's 1950 version. The Muppets did it with Miss Piggy giving her diva treatment to the "five gold rings" line. Bob Rivers turned it into the "Twelve Pains Of Christmas" with lyrics reflecting holiday annoyances ("batteries not included," "rigging up these lights"). Bob & Doug McKenzie put a Canadian slant on the song, capping it with "a beer." Jeff Foxworthy did "Redneck 12 Days Of Christmas, and Harry Belafonte recorded a Calypso version. You can even get a Chipmunks version and an Italian stereotype "guido" version by the How You Doin'? Boys. Popular traditional recordings of the song were done by usual suspects of Christmas songs: Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Ray Conniff, The Allisons and John Denver.
  • A live version by the 10-man a cappella group Straight No Chaser reached #5 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 2006 after one of the group's members, Randy Stine, uploaded it to YouTube. The video was from a 1998 performance at Indiana University, where the group formed. Their nonlinear rendition contains lots of quirky tangents, with bits of many Christmas classics thrown in and also mashup with the Toto song "Africa."

    The video went viral, and after receiving 9 million views (a huge number in 2006), they were given a five-album deal by Atlantic Records (the original group had long since disbanded post-college, but re-formed when the Atlantic deal came through).

    Their take on "Twelve Days of Christmas" marked the first time a Christmas song appeared on the AC chart.
  • The 12 days of Christmas is the period between December 25 (Christmas) and January 6 (The Feast of Epiphany). Epiphany celebrates the revelation of the Christ child to the Gentiles, when the Magi or three wise men visited Bethlehem to see Jesus by following a star.

    The idea of The 12 days of Christmas dates back to the Council of Tours in 567 when the church leaders decided that the period from Christmas to Epiphany should be celebrated as Christmastide.
  • The words for "Twelve Days of Christmas" were first published in England in 1780 without music as a chant.
  • The standard tune now associated with the song comes from English composer Frederic Austin's 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody. He added some embellishments, including the drawn out "five go-old rings" (now often "five gold-den rings").
  • The PNC Financial Services Group publishes an annual Christmas Price Index that calculates the prices of all the gifts in the "Twelve Days of Christmas" based on current market rates. They estimated it would cost $20,069.58 to buy your "true love" all the gifts in the song in 1984, the first year they did the index. By 2019 it had risen to $38,993.59.

Comments: 2

  • Esther Henry from Atai Obio OffotThis song is a wonderful song .it is my best christmas song
  • Karen from Manchester, NhThe best. Period!
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