The 12 days of Christmas mentioned in the carol by this name refer to the 12 days of feasting and celebration originally designated in the sixth century as a time to commemorate the incarnation of Christ. The 12-day period began on December 25 and ended January 5.
The carol dates to the 16th century when Roman Catholics were experiencing religious persecution in England. From 1558 until 1829 it was illegal for them to practice or express their faith in any form in public.
In fact, to be caught in public with any material about the Christian faith brought imprisonment and death. Out of this intense persecution, "The 12 Days of Christmas" emerged as a kind of coded message affirming belief in Christ and in the Bible.
Each of the 12 days represents some important aspect of the Christian faith that the disciple was to learn and adhere to. Below is the hidden meaning behind this clever Christmas carol.
First day: The "partridge in a pear tree" represents the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Christ is portrayed as a partridge because of the instinctual habit of mother partridges to pretend to be injured in order to decoy predators away from their helpless young.
Second day: "Two turtle doves" refers to the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Third day: "Three French hens" stands for the three virtues written about in 1 Corinthians 13:13: faith, hope and love.
Fourth day: "Four calling birds" symbolizes the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Fifth day: "Five golden rings" points to the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Sixth day: "Six geese a-laying" stands for the six days of creation and the affirmation that almighty God is the creator and sustainer of all things.
Seventh day: "Seven swans a-swimming" represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Romans 11: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving and generosity, leadership, and compassion and mercy.
Eighth day: "Eight maids a-milking" stands for the eight beatitudes Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5), each beginning with "Blessed are": (1) the poor in spirit;
(2) those who mourn; (3) the meek; (4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; (5) the merciful; (6) the pure in heart; (7) the peacemakers; and (8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
Ninth day: "Nine ladies dancing" represents the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
10th day: "Ten lords a-leaping" symbolizes the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20:1-17).
11th day: "Eleven pipers piping" refers to the 11 faithful disciples. Because Judas Iscariot, the 12th disciple, betrayed Jesus, he is not included among the faithful.
12th day: "Twelve drummers drumming" emphasizes the 12 doctrinal points of the Apostles' Creed, which outlines the core beliefs of the Christian faith.
What Christmas carol is the most Christ-centered for you?
What do bells have to do with Christmas? For centuries, church bells rang all over the world, expressing the glad tidings of Christ's birth.
In medieval times bells somberly tolled an hour before midnight on Christmas Eve, warning the powers of darkness of the approaching birth of the ultimate Deliverer. In England, this was called "tolling the devil's knell."
At the stroke of midnight, which ushered in Christmas, the bells started ringing joyously, and continued every hour afterward. Christmas bells have played a major role in ancient Christmas traditions, warning the devil and his demons to flee, as well as calling Christians to joyous exaltation over the birth of Christ. This hope-producing Christmas tradition was referenced in the carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
Tired of people bashing Christmas traditions? Here's how to reclaim the rich meaning behind the symbols of the season.
By Peter Bertolero
I love to celebrate Christmas because I love the Christ of Christmas. Yet we live in a day when celebrating "Christ's mass" is frowned upon by the secularists, who want to excise Jesus from the holiday, and surprisingly, by some Christians who want to exorcize Christmas from the calendar.
You have no doubt heard some of these more popular "Bah! Humbug!" criticisms from sanctified scrooges:
Christ wasn't born in winter, let alone on December 25.
Christmas comes from an occult winter-solstice festival.
Evergreen trees and holly and mistletoe come from pagan
customs and therefore are "of the devil."
Sound familiar? Let's see if I can help those "Christ-massers" among you celebrate the birth of Christ in a deeper, more meaningful and festive way, without guilt or condemnation.
Have you ever heard of syncretism? It means mixing, blending or incorporating different belief systems and their practices. Christianity becomes guilty of syncretism when critical, basic elements of the Christian faith are undermined or replaced by the religious elements of its host culture or the world around it.
However, to denounce a Christian tradition or practice as rooted in paganism simply because a similar practice appears in ancient pagan rituals is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Such logic cannot be maintained consistently in every matter of faith and practice. Logic of this sort would result in surrendering all God's creation to pagans and atheists—leaving nothing for Christians to use in worshiping the God who created all things for His pleasure (see Rev. 4:11).
Christianity is the "new kid on the block" as far as belief systems go, so almost anything we use to remember Christ has probably been used by older religions first, including the days of the week. John Ankerberg writes: "We would be hard-pressed to find a day to celebrate that did not have pagan roots. Every day of our week, indeed our entire calendar is 'pagan'!"
Jesus didn't use such logic when deciding what His family could and could not use in celebrating Jewish festivals, such as the Feast of Tabernacles. If He had, they would have had to go without branches or booths, since other, older religions used tree branches in their idolatrous rituals, as the prophet Ezekiel noted (see Ezek. 8:17).
"Anti-Christ-massers" couldn't apply their rationale to Old Testament Jewish worshipers either. Scholars have found archeological evidence that the Egyptians and Assyrians worshiped ark-like structures made of gold with cherubim atop them, such as the one used in Moses' tabernacle.
William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, pointed out similarities between pagan rituals and the baptism of John, as well as pagan lore resembling the Virgin Birth. He also called attention to an ancient Greek tradition in which a miracle similar to Jesus' turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2) was allegedly performed by Dionysus once a year in his temple.
Even the bull-worshiping pagans of Mithraism incorporated the re-enacting of death and resurrection rituals. Should this, then, eliminate any possibility of Christians re-enacting the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus?
Christmas should be a time of awe and reverence. Our salvation, our blessing, our life and our hope were made possible because God took on human flesh in a manger in Bethlehem.
by the late Fuchsia Pickett
The shepherds saw a babe in a manger. The wise men, arriving later, also saw a young child. But the One who emerged from Mary's womb that cold winter night in Bethlehem of Judea was much more than what was discernable with human eyes.
He was God. The sacred record is clear: "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
"Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.'
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" (Luke 2:8-14).
It is as much a marvel today as it was 2,000 years ago: God the Father so approved of the One born that night in Bethlehem that He bid the angels to worship together—even though the second person of the Trinity wore a menial garb of swaddling clothes and had been laid on a bed of hay!
A Lasting Wonder
We can only approach the high and holy subject of Christ's incarnation with awe. His name is called "Wonderful" (Is. 9:6). The angels of God are commanded to worship Him (Heb. 1:6). The one born in Bethlehem's manger is Immanuel, "God with us" (Matt. 1:23), and the "Mighty God" (Is. 9:6).
In Jesus Christ, God was born, lived here in this world, died, rose again and ascended to heaven as the God-man, becoming the object of lasting wonder to all creation.
He is entirely unique. His birth has no precedent, and His existence has no analogy. Placing Him in a category cannot explain Him, neither will an example adequately illustrate Him.
The Scriptures reveal His person, yet they never present an exhaustive definition of Him. We are told, "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16).
Moses' experience in the wilderness—when the angel appeared to him in the burning bush—is an Old Testament type of the presence of God indwelling the man, Christ Jesus. The Exodus account clearly speaks of the flame of fire being "in the midst" of the bush without consuming the bush itself (Ex. 3:2). This is seen by some as a foreshadowing of the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Christ.
Yet the wonder of an unconsumed bush burning with fire does not ultimately compare to the mystery of Jesus, as a man, being indwelt by the fullness of God. How is it possible that this one person could be infinite and finite, mortal and immortal, omnipotent and vulnerable?
It transcends all human understanding that two wills, two natures and two memories can constitute one person who is God in the flesh. We cannot explain how both natures, in all their attributes and acts, can grow together and unite in one whole being, acting in concert in one person. Yet God declares that it is so!
Christ, in becoming man, did not cease to be God. He did not lose His position or His divine attributes. Rather, He voluntarily set them aside to take on our humanity.
Yet the humanity of Christ was not destroyed or consumed by His deity; its own human characteristics were preserved. As Luke says, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).
In the Incarnation, God in Christ Jesus established a personal union between Himself and a human spirit, soul and body. Theologian A.A. Hodge declares the union between these two natures is not mechanical, as it is between oxygen and nitrogen in our air; nor is it chemical, as it is between oxygen and hydrogen when water is formed; nor is it organic, as it is between our hearts and brains.
Rather, it is a union more intimate, more profound and more mysterious than any of these. It is personal. And, as Hodge points out, if we cannot understand the nature of the simpler unions, why should we complain because we cannot understand the nature of the most profound of all unions?
by the late Jamie Buckingham
I write this aboard a jet airliner speeding south from one of the nation's greatest northern cities. I am heading home for Christmas.
How eager I am to see the face of my wife, embrace my now-grown children who are gathering at the old homestead, grab my little grandchildren and swing them high as they squeal: "PaPa's home."
How eager I am to sit quietly with my dear friends, my extended family, to embrace and whisper "I love you" in the ears of those as committed to me as they are to their own blood relatives. We will embrace, take off our shoes, sit in front of a fire (sipping egg nog), and feel "at home" in each other's presence.
Home for Christmas! My oldest son will be driving through the night after finishing his work in the nation's capital—joining his family in Florida. Our youngest daughter will fight the mobs which throng the airports, winging in from college in middle-America.
In all of our efforts to get home for Christmas, we touch others—desperate, happy, lonely, cheerful—thronging crowded terminals, all trying to make that mystical deadline.
What is it on this day that so drives us to be among loved ones?
Busy businessmen forget about buying and selling, creating and convincging, to lounge around the house with the family. Things like trade agreements, real estate deals, marketing and sales—all take a back seat to important things like carving the turkey and opening inane but precious gifts under a tree.
Dignified college professors, their cheeks ruddy and hair blowing in the wind, race up and down sidewalks, laughing and shouting as they hold on to small children riding bikes with training wheels.
Ranchers and dairymen quickly finish morning chores so they can take off muddy boots and join laughing families at Christmas breakfasts.
Computer experts, physicians, engineers—(all intellectuals, all degreed and pedigreed) sit cross-legged under trees, waist-deep in wrapping paper, turned into little children—at least for the day.
Gangsters, tax evaders, liars, drunkards, adulterers, prostitutes, even members of the Mafia—all turn aside on this day to kneel at altars and shed a tear in a communion cup for a baby in a manger.
Home for Christmas! Broken-hearted parents sit and wait by the telephone, anxiously scan the mail, hoping memories of Christmas past will stir the heart of a runaway child and bring word of safety.
Runaway children, some young, some very old, walk city sidewalks, huddle in lonely motel rooms, sit and stare in drab apartments on this, the loneliest day of the year—yearning for some power so they can hurdle the wall of pride and reach out for home.
Soldiers in far-flung military outposts, wet and cold, sweaty and sticky, stand lonely watch around olive drab vehicles or shiver in isolated guardhouses at the gates—all dreaming of home.
Airman, cramped in the cockpits of flying cannons high in the darkened and silent skies on Christmas Eve, look upward for a star, then down over tilted wings at the winking lights below Misty-eyed, they dream of the touch of a mother's hand, the warmth of a father's chuckle, the squeals of little ones, cookies, candles and a choir singing "Silent Night."