Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John Howard Farmer

The Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s “an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song, a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days after Christmas. The song, published in England in a 1780 children’s book, without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin.”

Despite being couched as some ancient and mysterious church teaching attributed to Saints and symbols, this is really a song to encourage everyday folks to celebrate the real twelve days of Christmas — that period between Christmas Day and Epiphany; a time for celebrating the manifestation of the Divine nature of Jesus to the gentiles as represented by the Magi, or Wise Men. Such would be traditionally observed on January 6; a time in which we may celebrate some of the most important, interesting and spiritually symbolic feasts of the entire liturgical year.

Alas, we celebrate too few seasons of the ecclesiastical year in our homes these days.

The standard tune now associated with the song is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin (30 March 1872 – 10 April 1952), an English baritone, a musical teacher and composer in the period 1905–30. It was he who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse “five-gold-rings.” Each verse is built on top of the previous verses.

Since the 1940s, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, the Ray Conniff Singers and most country-western troubadours have recorded versions of the song.

The Muppets, along with Alvin & the Chipmunks and others, have offered several humorous parodies. No doubt this year will bring out a host of other parodies.

PNC Wealth Management teases that from 2015 and coming forward it is estimated that the “the cost of the Partridge in a Pear Tree rose 3.5 percent, primarily due to the Partridge’s growing popularity as a gourmet food and in backyard farming. Turtle Doves are up 11.5 percent due to increased grain prices and Lords-a-Leaping prices rose 3 percent due to an increase in salaries.” Overall, to sing and buy the gifts would exceed $35,000 this year.

In 2014, the Hallmark Channel even produced a movie based upon the popular version of the song. Possibly there are half-dozen other flicks out there as well.

Culminating on the twelfth night celebration, which by and large has fallen from popular recognition.

Did you know that Amazon.com even has a list for their annual 12 days of gifts?

Sing along, you mostly likely know the tune. Have fun trying to fit the words to the melody… mind you it is a tongue twister of a ditty:

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me: two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me: three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five-golden-rings; four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Pull out the sheet music or buy a copy, and keep on the living room grand during the season. Teach it to the youngsters.

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