Twelve Days

Source: Wikipedia

One of the best-known Christmas carols is The Twelve Days of Christmas, referencing the twelve-day festival we have previously written about. Twelve Days first appeared in print in eighteenth-century England in a children’s songbook, although it is believed to be older and originally French.

It’s a carol that gets reinterpreted in every culture, according to the gifts and items that are relevant locally and with differing tunes. The meanings of each verse have changed over time. For example, “calling birds” were probably “colly” or “coal-y” birds (that is, black as coal) and “five golden rings” probably referred to ring-necked pheasants rather than jewelry. The pear tree might just be a corruption of “perdrix” pronounced perdree which is French for partridge.

Although Twelve Days is called a carol, it has no reference to the Christian festival and lacks any spiritual meaning. it is more of a party song and game for the twelve days following the religious festivities, what is called a counting song in folk music (like “Ten Green Bottles”, “One Potato, Two Potato” and many others). It would not have been out of place for Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek to sing Twelve Days during one of their drunken parties in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Christmas has evolved since this song entered popular culture and now Christmas has morphed into a celebration of the lead up to Christmas Day, rather than a post-Christmas Day party. Whatever and however you celebrate over the end of 2023, I hope you have at least twelve days of enjoyment, relaxation and celebration!

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