Epiphany: The Meaning of The 12 Days of Christmas is Still Relevant Today

Three men of varying race, culture and spirituality, lovingly sought and worshiped the newborn Christ.

We sing The Twelve Days of Christmas and laugh as we confuse our ladies dancing with our maids-a-milking but do we know what the song means, or why it originated? Epiphany celebrates three men of varying race, culture and spirituality, who lovingly sought and worshiped the newborn Jesus. The feast of Epiphany, on the 12th day, is an affirmation of God’s love and redemption to people of every race, culture and spiritual understanding.

Yet, such loving worship led to the massacre of all the male babies born in the vicinity of Bethlehem up to two years old, as recorded in Mathew 2. Does the suppression and prejudice against spiritual worship sound familiar? In our contemporary world of rationalism, we act as though practicing spiritual beliefs should be hidden away in private. Public displays of faith are often ridiculed or objects of abuse. When is the last time you publicly said a blessing or crossed yourself before eating in a restaurant?

Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish and Christian churches and participants are attacked worldwide on a daily basis simply because they have a belief in a Deity above and beyond this world. Lesser known religions such as Jainism, totemic, Baha’i, or Zoroastrianism are sometimes referred to as mythology or even witchcraft.

From 1558 until 1829 it was illegal for Roman Catholics to worship openly in England. They learned to teach their children and converts by using songs that appealed to the general public but had hidden meanings for Catholics. The Twelve Days of Christmas was first published in England in 1780. It was disguised as a guide for gift giving.

Knowledge engenders understanding. Understanding can lead to compassion and mercy. My wish for this new year is that we all learn compassion and respect for others of any faith, race, or culture.

Here is the meaning of The Twelve Days of Christmas as recorded by Ann Ball in her book, HANDBOOK OF CATHOLIC SACRAMENTALS:

Our “True Love” was born on Christmas day.

The partridge in the pear tree represents Christ. The bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary by drawing away predators from its children.

Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments

Three French hens stand for faith, hope, and love.

Four calling birds are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Five golden rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.

Six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe (fear) of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-3)

Eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes. (Matthew 5: 3-11)

Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—–charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20: 1-17)

The eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful Apostles.

Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.


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