Twelve Days of Christmas - all you wanted to know and more than that! :)
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Most of us are familiar with the song, "the twelve days of Christmas"
in which the singer's 'true love' gives various gifts. Actually the amount
of money these gifts would cost would be too high for most people's
tastes. J Patrick Bradley who was the chief economist at the Provident
National Bank in Philadephia, calculates the following costs for the true
Grand total would be....... $23071.72
This song has always been less than easy to understand - we don't celebrate 12 days of Christmas and then, why did the lover give such strange gifts. When singing the song, I would picture the recipient's home as resembling a zoo by the 12th day!
In the 1980's, Fr Hal Stockert, in digging through some old correspondance between French Jesuits and British Jesuits, stumbled upon the mention of this song as written by the Jesuits in England during the 16th century right after the Anglican split when there was a persecution of all who choose to remain Roman Catholic - Many Catholic churches were destroyed as well as convents and monasteries.
The Jesuits, in their efforts to keep the Catholic faith alive in Britain without calling attention to themselves (being Catholic was an offense punishable by death or imprisonment), reputedly wrote "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as an entertaining way for the children to memorize the catechism. To the Anglicans, it just sounded like a holiday song but the gifts had a deeper meaning.
Fr Hal wrote an article which has since circulated around the Internet and the BBSes and online services (like Compuserve). The article gave the Christian history and the underlying meaning of the 12 gifts.
in 2005, Fr Russell Roide, SJ, the Jesuit pastor of our parish, ran into the history of the "12 days of Christmas" when he was visiting England and conversing with Jesuits there. Those he talked to, attributed the song to the authorship of some "wily Jesuit priests" in the 16th century and showed him some ancient documents in their possession which further validated it. He came home and wrote for our church, an article about this for the parish bulletin...
Unfortunately, Fr Hal lost the correspondence which validated the story, in a basement flood caused by a leaky pipe. So when one of the urban legend websites approached him to validate the story, he was no longer in possession of the papers which mentioned the song. SNOPES.COM was unimpressed and wrote a rather scathing article refuting the possibility that the "12 days of Christmas" was a Christian song. Fr Hal who still hangs around one of the Catholic lists and who is a personal friend of mine, says he's so sick of people dissing him for this historical fact which he discovered that he no longer posts the message on the lists. It's one of those "Life is too short" issues. :) I think people don't want to accept it because of the anti religious sentiment we are experiencing now and also because they don't want to admit that the persecution of Catholics which is CONSTANTLY going on...
Here are the deeper meanings of the 12 gifts. "My True Love" is God
who is giving these gifts to the Catholic individual:
The article on Snopes.com raises the following points:
1. They cannot find the documentation for this being a catechesis tool. However, in truth, if the documentation is in old correspondance, owned by the Jesuit order, this would not be available to SNOPES.com.
2. Since the Anglicans and the Catholics teach a similar catechism, why would the Jesuits go through the bother of codifying the main precepts of the church in a song? It should be remembered that Anglicans and Catholics were not on speaking terms, since the Catholics were under persecution. It would make sense that Catholics would not use the catechism of the "enemy". Additionally, such a song like this does not replace a catechism but is merely a tool for quick memorization and is used IN addition to the catechism.
3. The snopes article states that the
attempts to assign deeper meanings to nursery rhymes lacks historical
basis and attributes this story about the "12 days of Christmas" as an
attempt to do something similar. This is not a good argument.
Many of the nursery rhymes have nonsensical words unless you look at the
political meaning. We can see much of the same sort of thing in the Louis
Carroll books "Through the Looking Glass" "Alice in Wonderland" and
Carroll admitted himself, PUTTING the codified political stuff in the
book. We can see this type of writing in the book of Revelations as well,
which has been DOCUMENTED by scholars to be a codified catechism written
so that if found by the Romans, it would be taken as nonsensical.
I feel the logic in the article on the Snopes site is faulty and does not reflect a knowledge of Catholic history. Snopes.com offers no documentation that the "12 days of Christmas" was NOT a song used in Catechesis and we do have the Jesuit tradition on this from Fr Roide who is a Jesuit scholar, as well as Fr Hal's research. Both suggest that this WAS a song of catechesis.
Whatever the case, modern Christians can still be inspired by the song. See if, when you sing it next time, you don't think more of Jesus!
Fr Russell Roide, SJ
Fr Hal Stockert