No, the “12 Days of Christmas” is not a coded reference to Christian concepts.

Friend of the family sent me a forwarded email this morning that always seems to make the rounds this time of year. It claims to reveal how the song The Twelve Days of Christmas is a coded reference to various Christian concepts that are important to that faith. 

Did you know…

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

– The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
– Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
…snip…
So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I
found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song
became a Christmas Carol…so pass it on if you wish.

And a fine history lesson it is too, except it’s wrong. A good site for reading up on the true history and nature of the song is Snopes.com (also known as the Urban Legends References Pages) and I recommend checking it anytime you get emails like this before forwarding them on to everyone you know.

This is another example of a group of Christians someplace out there who wish to rewrite the history behind various objects and songs associated with Christmas to make them relevant to the faith in some way.  There’s another email that goes around at this time of year that makes the claim that Candy Canes were created to symbolize Jesus which is also not true. The idea that there are Christmas traditions that are secular in nature seems to bother these folks so they set about contriving a story to link the tradition with the holiday. It’s not all that dissimilar to the folks who go to great lengths to edit quotes (or make up completely bogus ones) made by the Founding Fathers to try and support the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

I’m guessing that the main intent behind engaging in this sort of deception is to make fellow believers feel better about the validity of their faith by showing, in part, how their ancestors managed to keep the faith during periods when their beliefs were being persecuted. The problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any historical evidence to support the idea of there ever being catechism-songs written for anything, let alone as a way to codify Christian concepts in a seemingly secular song. It does the Christian faith no good in the long run to continue to promote and popularize historical myths as it’ll just make folks resent the religion when the truth is revealed.

3 thoughts on “No, the “12 Days of Christmas” is not a coded reference to Christian concepts.

  1. The other day my buddy came in while we were setting up our tree.  He said “Oh, hey, putting up the old Christian symbol, eh?”  I answered “No, I’m putting a pagan bush in my house around Solstice.”  “Oh, well that’s cool.” was the response.
    The Church has always been smart enough to superimpose their ideals over holidays that have been celebrated for centuries.

  2. That was always a problem of mine with christiantity (and before anyone jumps down my throat I have plenty of christian friends and mean no offense to others, my father-in-law is a southern baptist decaon and my mother a Minister of Music) was how much one realied upon and decalred truth of the words of men. Yet they never question it? Some may know the true origins of some things but they still blindly follow the conforming of men’s words.

    In catholic school (my mother was catholic there for I attend catholic school for about three years, father baptist yes a mixed up past partly why I claim to no set “named” religion) it drove me insane the fact I couldn’t question things for it was truth and it came form what they called the word of god.. and of course I would get in trouble for saying but the bible was written by man… anyways… Maybe it is a comfort thing. But in my eyes I feel that it is also a fear thing for them.

    Makes me wonder how they are going to twist the Snowman poo that gets passed out …..

    Thanks for the link about the history of songs I have always wondered about a few songs so I will have to go check it out. What can I say I like knowing how things came about.. heck I even have a dictionary of Cliches with how they came into use..

  3. I wasn’t even remotely skeptical about the “candy cane” concept until I saw that link.

    Incredible.  I had only learned the myth about a month earlier, upon seeing it embroidered into a pillow in a catalogue!  I totally believed it when I read it, too.

    It’s just unbelievable how unruly rumors can get.

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