What Is The Meaning Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas?


Isn’t It Just A Christmas Song?

That’s probably what most think – that this is just a song heard every year at Christmas time – a repetitive, and, at times, monotonous rendition of a variety of gifts given over a twelve day period.

But, I beg to differ.  It is so much more than just a little ditty that crops up every Christmas – and, is sung by amateurs and professionals alike.


Hidden Meanings…

Jesus Christ nativity - born on 25 December.

The actual official “twelve days of Christmas” start on December 25th each year – which is the arbitrary date we place on the birth of Jesus.  The birth date of Christ, 25 December, has been a pretty solid guess since the third century A.D. – and takes into account that Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary, conceived during the Spring equinox – around March 25th.  Add nine months for her period of pregnancy – and we arrive at December 25th as the probable date of Jesus’ nativity – the dawn of the Savior of the human race.

The three wise men - The Magi

The reason for the number – twelve – is that it took that many days for word to spread throughout the ancient world – which culminated in the Magi – labeled the three kings – or, the three wise men – making the trek to Bethlehem – to bestow their special gifts upon Jesus.

Gold – A symbol of being a King (of the Jews) – as Jesus was hoped to become at the time.

Frankincense – A type of incense that evokes the notion that He “comes from God.”

Myrrh – An embalming oil symbolic of one who is mortal and would eventually die – just like all mortals do.

Thus, the “twelve days of Christmas” begin on December 25th and finish on January 5th each year.

Just don’t tell your kids – unless you’re ready to provide them with gifts each and every day during the “entire Christmas season.”  Keep it to yourself – and you’ll enjoy the “reason for the season” without going broke!


Now, Let’s Talk A Little About That Song!

The Twelve Days Of Christmas – listen and watch – as the late, great John Denver sings it with the Sesame Street Muppets:

It has been said that during the Middle Ages in the bygone days of merry ole England, Catholics were banned from practicing their religion in public.

So, how could they teach Christian religious principles to their children?

Why not disguise it in the form of a Christmas song?  This is exactly what these religious “lawbreakers” decided to do – and the song, “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” was conjured up!


Now, About The Meaning Of The Song – The Twelve Days Of Christmas!


On The First Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – A Partridge In A Pear Tree

A Partridge In A Pear Tree

A partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus himself.  The partridge is a bird that will defend its children by risking its own life – just as we all know Jesus did – by offering himself to be crucified on the cross.  The pear tree signifies the cross upon which Jesus was slaughtered.


On The Second Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Two Turtle Doves

Two Turtle Doves

Two turtle doves reference the connection between the two main sections of the Bible – marrying the Old Testament to the New Testament.  Just like two turtle doves in love, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible complement, support, and admire each other.


On The Third Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Three French Hens

Three French Hens

Three French hens symbolize love (charity), faith, and hope – the three religious virtues that we should all aspire to – whether we are Christian or not.


On The Fourth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Four Calling Birds

Four Calling Birds

Four calling birds refer to the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – which discuss four followers of Jesus who spread His Word far and wide – “unto the ends of the world.”


On The Fifth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Five Gold Rings

Five Gold Rings

Five gold rings are the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – otherwise known as the Pentateuch.  The word “Pentateuch” is a Greek phrase – loosely translated to mean five books – or five scrolls.  In some cultures, the word “golden” is used instead of “gold” in the song.


On The Sixth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me Six Geese A Laying

Six Geese A Laying

Six geese a laying corresponds to the time it took God to create the world – six days!  The eggs signify creation – or, new life.  The image of geese laying eggs relates to the hand of God passing over the void to create our world – as a place for new life to thrive.


On The Seventh Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me Seven Swans A Swimming

Seven Swans A Swimming

Seven swans a swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And, they are – 1) counsel, 2) fortitude, 3) knowledge, 4) wisdom, 5) understanding, 6) piety, and 7) fear of the Lord.


On The Eighth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me Eight Maids A Milking

Eight Maids A Milking

Eight maids a milking denote the eight beatitudes.  Now, what the heck is a “beatitude?”  It’s a Latin word meaning “blessed” – which relates to the eight basic blessings that Jesus talked about at the Sermon on the Mount.  To be blessed – is to be filled with happiness – by Jesus’ definition.

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In other words be thankful and at peace for what you have – and share what you can with those that are needy – in the name of God.
  2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Give aid and comfort to those folks who suffer – and raise the spirits of those who have endured loss in their life.
  3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Humbling yourself will give you a greater understanding of who you are as well as the comforting feeling that you have a place waiting for you in Heaven.  But, those people with huge egos and an over exaggerated sense of importance will never make it to the kingdom of God.  They may very well be sent to “the other place” – if you know what I mean.

The pearly gates of Heaven.

  1. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. And, what makes us “righteous?”  For starters, I would consider that a person is righteous if they follow God’s laws – the Ten Commandments – and, apply the Golden Rule by not infringing upon the rights of others – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Such a person has gone a long way to becoming a twinkle in God’s eye – which should make them “satisfied.”
  2. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. When other people are unkind to us, we should show compassion and forgive them – for until we “walk a mile in their shoes”, we will not understand what actually causes them to be callous and cruel.  Try to find ways to show them kindness and empathy.
  3. Blessed are the clean at heart, for they will see God. Our ethical nature requires us to “do what is right” – when we know the right thing to do.  Halfway measures don’t cut it – we have to go all out – 100% – and only then, will we be privileged to be in the presence of God.  Even Jesus professed to being nauseated – to the point of vomiting – in the presence of “Christians in name only” – who talk a good game but, they don’t “walk the talk.”
  4. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. In other words, don’t go off “half-cocked” – in a vengeful rage – throwing daggers at every turn.  Jesus was the “Prince of Peace” – and, to follow his example, we should be at peace within ourselves and promote peace and harmony throughout our existence – with everyone we come in contact with.
  5. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. No matter how much scorn and derision may be thrown at us, we must follow God’s teachings, laws, and rules – given to us by his only son, Jesus Christ.  We should live our lives based on our morals and faith – and ignore judgments and opinions to the contrary – that may get thrown our way – by all the naysayers.


On The Ninth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Nine Ladies Dancing

Nine Ladies Dancing

Nine ladies dancing equate to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit – which are 1) faithfulness, 2) gentleness, 3) goodness, 4) kindness, 5) joy, 6) love, 7) patience, 8) peace, and 9) self-control.


On The Tenth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Ten Lords A Leaping

Ten Lords A Leaping

Ten lords a leaping are actually a metaphor for the Ten Commandments.

  1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any gods before Me. There is only one true God – so, stay away from false gods and goddesses – especially in the form of idols and statues.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. We must honor the name of God – respecting it with the same passion and vigor that matches our love for God.
  3. Keep holy the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day actually starts at sundown on Friday and, ends at sundown on Saturday.  But, most of us define the Lord’s Day as Sunday – for our Sabbath day.  Just don’t tell anybody – shhhhh.

The Ten Commandments

  1. Honor thy father and thy mother. This means showing respect to our parents as we are being raised by them – and taking care of our father and / or our mother – when they can no longer care for themselves.
  2. Thou shalt not kill. The Hebrew translation is more precise – “Thou shalt not murder” – since “murder” is defined as the wanton killing of an innocent person.  But, killing to protect your life or the life of your family or neighbor – against an aggressor – isn’t morally wrong – and, technically, it’s not considered murder in the eyes of God.
  3. Thou shalt not commit adultery. This includes husbands and wives cheating on each other – or, any other forms of depraved sexual activities.
  4. Thou shalt not steal. This includes vandalism or cheating people out of their money or property – fraud, embezzlement, theft, etc.
  5. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Always tell the truth.  “The truth will set you free!”  When you are untruthful, you’ll always have to come up with new lies to protect the original perjury – and, pretty soon, you lose track of what you’ve lied about – and what you haven’t.  So, for Heaven’s sake – just tell the truth – the whole truth – and nothing but the truth!  So help you, God!  Amen!
  6. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Group this one in with the sixth Commandment – because, God considers sexuality to be a divine gift – making it sacred – and, He says our sexual appetite should be limited to a union between two people – such as a marriage ordained in His name.
  7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. This last one is linked to the seventh Commandment – by making it unlawful in God’s eyes to steal or to experience feelings of envy, greed, and jealousy with respect to other folks’ possessions.


On The Eleventh Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me – Eleven Pipers Piping

Eleven Pipers Piping

Eleven pipers piping represent the first 11 faithful Apostles (Disciples) of Jesus – 1) Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Matthew, 7) Thomas, 8) James (son of Alphaeus), 9) Simon (the Zealot), 10) Jude, and 11) Nathanael.  The twelfth Apostle, Judas Iscariot, was a betrayer and not considered one of the faithful.


On The Twelfth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me Twelve Drummers Drumming

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Twelve drummers drumming are actually the traditional twelve beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed – based on the version put forth by the Catholic Church – to teach Catechism.

God, the Father

The twelve beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed are:

I believe:

  1. In God the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.
  2. In Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  3. That Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born by the Virgin Mary.
  4. That, under Pontius Pilate, Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.
  5. That Jesus descended to the dead. And, on the third day, he rose again.
  6. That Jesus ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, our God.
  7. That Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  8. In the Holy Spirit.
  9. In the holy Catholic Church and the communion of saints.
  10. In the forgiveness of sins.
  11. In the resurrection of the body.
  12. In life everlasting.


Trivia Time

If all the gifts are added up, the total number of gifts equals 364 – one gift for every day of the calendar year – excluding Christmas day – the day of Jesus’ birth.

This chart gives the breakdown:

Total number of gifts for the 12 days of Christmas.


A Final Note

Either the leaders of the Catholic Church were extremely wise or, the King of England – who proclaimed the religion of the times to be Protestant – was unwittingly duped not to recognize this song as a simple way for priests to teach Catechism to kids without getting into trouble with the “law of the land” penalizing Catholicism.


Some Great Christmas Albums To Spice Up The Holidays!


Christmas by pianist Ian Mulder

Angels We Have Heard On High is one of Mulder’s breathtaking performances on this album:

In conjunction with the London Symphony Orchestra, and Andrea Bocelli, Ian Mulder offers up the most beautiful Christmas carols – pleasantly warm and emotional.  Christmas by Ian Mulder is truly a must have CD for the season!


100 Christmas Hits by Various Artists

My favorite on this CD is Silver Bells by Diana Ross and the Supremes:

Other amazing artists belting out great Christmas songs on this CD are Brenda Lee, Stevie Wonder, The Drifters, Connie Francis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, The Four Seasons, and just so many, many more – it would take a whole page just to list every one of them!  You will definitely want to have 100 Christmas Hits!


Christmas – Elvis Presley and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

You’ll have tears in your eyes after hearing Elvis sing I’ll Be Home For Christmas on his Christmas album:

Just by itself, this Christmas album is more than worth the cash to have it on hand for the season of giving.  But, it comes with another great album by Elvis – The Wonder Of You – also recorded with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – which contains my all-time favorite version of Amazing Grace:

You can get both albums – Christmas and The Wonder Of You – as a package deal for a very low price.  Don’t pass it up!

Well, I hope that I’ve given you a new appreciation for a simply worded Christmas song – The Twelve Days Of Christmas.  A song that you may have once thought was just a silly set of senseless words put to music.

Leave a comment or email me, noah@apathtoabetterlife.com, with thoughts, suggestions – or, just a note of appreciation or criticism – whatever the case may be.

May your Christmas be as Merry as you want it to be – and then some!



Lookin’ On The Lightside!

22 thoughts on “What Is The Meaning Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas?

  1. Tyson Reply

    Hey Noah, I had no idea there were so many “hidden” references in that song!

    Where I grew up, we were taught the song at some point during our elementary years and honestly that was about it. Nothing regarding the history of the song or any of the meanings behind it. That was such a cool and descriptive way that you laid it all out there.

    Are there many more Christmas songs out there with underlying messages that often go unnoticed? I’m super curious now that you’ve brought this to my attention, thank you!

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Tyson,

      I agree – it is breathtaking to know that this seemingly senseless song had so much meaningful content.  To think that it had such a deep and holy message is awe inspiring – to be sure!

      Hats off the to monks in olde England!


  2. Christine Reply

    The twelve days of Christmas end on January 5, that explains why on January 6 in some countries children get gifts. It’s a beautiful custom, I was always excited about it when I was a kid.

    I didn’t know about the meaning of the song, I learned something new today. It really is beautiful.

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Christine,

      It’s true – when you think of the true meaning of The Twelve Days of Christmas – it really is stunning to behold!

      Glad you enjoyed it!


  3. Rogier Giersthove Reply

    Very interesting article and a very interesting website in general. 

    I never imagined there to be a hidden message in the song but when you explain it really makes sense. The king of England was definitely duped but honestly connecting the dots is a lot harder than it looks. 

    The next time I hear this song I’ll definitely think about this article and the true meaning behind this song.

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Rogier,

      I suppose you’re right – putting together the hidden meanings of the song may have only been possible by members of the Catholic Church who were privy to its background and intent.

      And, like you, every time I hear this melody, it has much more impact – since I know the actual meaning of the lyrics!


  4. Stuart Reply

    Not quite sure where to begin in commenting on this totally remarkable article.  Found the references to Jesus and Christianity in general to be totally mind blowing, not only that but as a Christian can totally understand the logic behind it all.  In some ways it reminded be of a favourite that I used to love which I think was called “The Deck of Cards”, which referred to a deck of cards as an almanac.  

    Also adored the music which I played, you reminded me to get out my collection of Christmes MUsic, which is played non-stop on Christmas Day.

    Once again many thanks for a most inspiring article.

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Stuart,

      I almost forgot about Deck of Cards!  I heard it sung (spoken) by Tex Ritter.  It was about a young soldier who used a deck of cards as his prayer book.

      • Ace – means one God.
      • 2 – is the Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible.
      • 3 – is the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
      • 4 – represents St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John.
      • 5 – are the 5 wise virgins in the parable, Matthew 25:1-13. They were smart and brought extra oil for their lamps.
      • 6 – the number of days taken by God to create the earth.
      • 7 – the day on which God rested – the Sabbath.
      • 8 – was the total members of Noah’s family – Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives.
      • 9 – There were ten lepers cleansed by Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 17:11-19) – but, nine of them did not return to give thanks to Jesus.
      • 10 – this is, of course, the Ten Commandments.
      • King – there is only one King – God.
      • Queen – could only be Mary, the mother of Jesus.
      • Jack or knave – the sinister evil of the world – Satan – or the Devil.
      • 365 spots on the cards – the number of days in a year.
      • 52 cards in the deck – the number of weeks in a year.
      • Thirteen cards in each suit of cards – the number of weeks in a quarter of a year – or season (spring, summer, fall, winter).
      • Four suits (clubs, spades, diamonds, hearts) – are the number of weeks in a month.
      • Twelve face cards – or “picture” cards – are the number of months in a year.

      Good call!


  5. Dane Reply

    Wow. that is a lot of information. I like how you make the connection of the words to the song to the spiritual meanings.

    I now have a new found appreciation for this song!  And, I will endeavor to pass it along to my family and friends so they can increase their enjoyment of it, too!

    Thank you!

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Dane,

      You’re quite welcome.  I’m happy that you have a better understanding of the true meaning of The Twelve Days of Christmas!


  6. Antonio Reply

    Hi Noah

    It is such a wonderful song and a joy to sing. I was taught in school the meaning of the song and what everyday refers to, so I am well versed in this story. I got to admit it was a genius way of teaching Catholics the importance of their faith right under the nose of the Protestants. It is amazing what happened to the UK at that time and how both Protestants and Catholics both suppressed each other beliefs. It is a testament to the songwriters that the song is still known today like Greensleeves.

    Do you know who actually wrote the song.



    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Antonio,

      Knowing the true meaning of the song and the repetitive lyrics is what makes it such a magnificent song and a pleasure to sing – much better than Old MacDonald Had A Farm!

      There are a number of folks over the years that have taken credit for being the author – but, no one can actually prove it.  Even though the words have slightly changed over the years, I still like this original version that “schools’ those trying to finish their Catechism.


  7. MrBiizy Reply

    Hello Noah, thank you for sharing the meaning of the twelve days of Christmas. Sincerely speaking, I never imagined for once that each of these days had meaning attached to them and I never really knew that it’s from December 25th to January 5th. Oh man, you needed to see my reaction while I read through this amazing post. The elders are indeed very wise. I have learnt a great deal today.

    Merry Christmas in advance.

    • Noah Post authorReply

      I’m happy that you found this research into The Twelve Days Of Christmas as both enlightening and entertaining.

      Merry Christmas!


  8. Carol Reply

    The twelve days of Christmas is a very memorable yuletide rendition by the great John Denver, back then during the carol a lot of remarkable activities such as Christmas play, songs and so on always grace the colorful festive period.

    The part where everybody wants to listen to is the fifth day, which has the five golden rings.

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Carol,

      Yes – the five gold (or golden) rings is a unique change that occurs during the song.  It allows many different styles of transitioning to the other gifts – and, Miss Piggy definitely has a one-of-a-kind approach!

      I think we all look forward to the Christmas plays – especially, the ones done by our kids in their school programs.


  9. Matiss Reply

    Hahaha, I couldn’t agree more – “Keep it to yourself – and you’ll enjoy … without going broke!” It couldn’t be truer.

    But all jokes aside, I truly enjoyed this one. May I also say that it was, what I feel, an incredibly thorough one.

    To that end, I wouldn’t in a hundred years guessed that it’s a sort of a rebel song that served the purpose of teaching religious principles. In my native country, we also have a lot of songs like that with somewhat concealed meanings that served to promote national values during the Russian occupation not that long ago. And for all I can say, ultimately, they played an important role as I feel they probably have also with this song.

    Above all, thank you for taking the time to do this. As I mentioned, it was profoundly insightful!

    Cheers, and have a Great One!


    • Noah Post authorReply

      I suppose it could be called a “rebel song” – and, the rebels are the monks and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

      I think that most countries have quite a list of songs with hidden meanings that were significant to their respective histories!


  10. Rasa Reply

    Hey, I just wanted to let you know that this was a really fun read for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    It’s super cool that you actually took the time to briefly (and at times not so briefly, like when speaking about eight maids a-milking) go over every single of the twelve days. In that regard, I do find it to be a great reference material (and I bookmarked it). So, thank you for that.

    I personally will, for sure, now listen to the song more intently and with a deeper appreciation for what it stands for and symbolizes. Meaning, to me it’s no longer just a random Christmas song.

    To all the truly meaningful Christmas songs out there! Cheers! And Merry Christmas!

    • Noah Post authorReply

      Glad to hear you got a real kick out of it.

      Knowing the true meaning of any song can give us a much greater appreciation for the lyrics and music – and indelibly imprint it on our minds – until the end of time!

      Merry Christmas to you!


  11. Wayne Reply

    Very nicely done, and a standing ovation, Noah.  Very well put together and your right, I have also sung this song many time over the years.

    I have known for quite some time the meaning behind this rather lengthy tune.  I applaud you for putting it all together in one place for us to see and read. 

    Taking into consideration the state of our world these days, it would not surprise me at all that many don’t have a clue what it means.  

    I do think that it’s rather ingenious of them to put it together though.  Maybe the King didn’t realize what was going on and maybe he did but I would suggest that It wouldn’t have mattered because I believe that God could have made it continue regardless of the King’s efforts.  After all, many have tried to wipe out the Bible over the centuries and it’s still here as well.  Even more so.

    Real Christians are very hardy people.  They will share the gospel under any circumstances and have found so many ways to do that.  I believe the original candy cane is another example and then there is the Christmas tree.

    Thanks again for taking us through the 12 Days of Christmas and I hope you and your family have a wonder FULL Christmas and a great New Year.


    • Noah Post authorReply

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks, for the standing ovation.  I haven’t had one of those in a long time!

      You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know the symbolism of this song.  Even a goodly number of Christians – including Christian leaders – are not privy to the subtle references and what they mean.

      Have a safe and Merry Christmas!


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