The Myth of the Twelve Days of Christmas

The Myth of the Twelve Days of Christmas
by Pastor Lee Hemen

We have all sang the silly song of Christmas entitled The Twelve Days of Christmas, and there has been a myth perpetuated by many unsuspecting folks for the past several decades. I was first made aware of this by my own Worship Leader and I went and did some research myself and discovered that the idea that this carol was originally made up by Catholics to teach the Bible because of persecution is simply false. Here is why:

This is a myth that has been perpetuated by some in the Catholic church, but not all. In fact The Catholic Encyclopedia. states that “There is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song The Twelve Days of Christmas was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation, similar to the many apocryphal ‘hidden meanings’ of various nursery rhymes. … If The Twelve Days of Christmas were really a song Catholics used ‘as memory aids to preserve the tenets of their faith’ because ‘to be caught with anything in writing indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could get you imprisoned,’ how was the essence of Catholicism passed from one generation to the next? … There are no obvious relationships between the concepts to be memorized and the symbols used to represent them in The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The song was created a long time after their “persecution.” The pear tree was never to represent Jesus and was added as an idea much much later by Catholics. In fact, the five golden rings are golden ring-necked pheasants. The song represented the excessive wealth of the rich and was probably first written in France! The idea of it being a Catholic way of teaching the Bible does not go farther back than the 1990s. The Priest who first wrote about it being a persecuted Catholic primer admitted he could not support his theory because he lost all of his notes in a basement flood and his computer disk was “too old” to use. However the earliest rendition of the  song was included in 1780 in a French children’s book call Mirth Without Mischief. In fact, the partridge was not introduced into England from France until the late 1770s! While the twelve days of the song represent the supposed twelve days between the birth of Jesus and the coming of Magi (Which in reality occurred more than likely 3 years later because the Greek says Jesus was a “young boy”, probably a toddler, and his family lived in their own house!). However, the song itself was taken from a game people played whereby if the player missed or incorrectly recited a verse of the song, they had to give up a kiss or a piece of candy to the preceding player. By the way, I knew this when I was a young Catholic boy and did not hear the Catholic primer story until after I became a pastor in my 30s!

Also see: or see:

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission…


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