What Is the Meaning behind the Song 12 Days of Christmas?

The well-known Christmas song “12 Days of Christmas” was composed by Frederic Austin in the 1780s.

During the holiday season, it’s common to hear the song being sung by choirs, carolers, and loved ones, making it an essential part of Christmas festivities.

But do you know what each day represents and the significance behind the lyrics?

The First Day of Christmas – December 25

Partridge in a pear tree

The “first day of Christmas” is Christmas Day itself, which has been celebrated for centuries as the start of the 12-day period known as Twelvetide.

The opening line of the song, “a partridge in a pear tree,” is believed to symbolize God sending Jesus as a gift to the world.

Writer Frederic Austin chose a partridge because, in the Christian faith, a mother partridge will sacrifice herself to protect her young, just as Jesus sacrificed himself to save humanity.

The Second Day of Christmas – December 26

The “second day of Christmas” is also known as Boxing Day in the West and is celebrated as the Feast of St. Stephen in the Christian faith.

The two turtle doves mentioned in the song represent the Old and New Testaments, which together complete God’s plan for the world.

Turtle doves are also a symbol of peace, love, and new life.

The Third Day of Christmas – December 27

The “third day of Christmas” is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, who was described in the Bible as someone whom Jesus loved.

The “three French hens” gifted in the song represent faith, love, and hope, which are traditional Christian values mentioned in the Bible.

The Fourth Day of Christmas – December 28

The “fourth day of Christmas” commemorates the baby boys who were killed when King Herod was searching for Jesus.

King Herod felt threatened by the newborn Jesus in the New Testament and wanted to find and kill him. However, he failed and instead ordered the killing of all male babies under two years old in Bethlehem. This event became known as the Holy Innocents’ Day or the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The “four calling birds” in the Christmas song are thought to refer to the four evangelists in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each wrote a book of the New Testament named after themselves, sharing their versions of the birth and life of Jesus. Some historians suggest that the song was meant to reference “collie birds,” an ancient name for blackbirds.

December 29th, the fifth day of Christmas, is also a day to remember Saint Thomas of Canterbury, also known as Thomas Becket. He was a prominent martyr who was murdered on this day in 1170. The “five golden rings” mentioned in the song represent the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch or Torah. These books were written by the prophet Moses and include stories such as the creation of man and his fall from grace.

The sixth day of Christmas, December 30th, represents the six days of creation according to Christian belief. God created the world and everything within it over six days, as detailed in the book of Genesis. Additionally, some Catholics commemorate Saint Egwin of Worcester on this day. He died in 717.

On December 31st, the seventh day of Christmas, the number seven symbolizes completion and rest. This day is celebrated as New Year’s Eve in most countries. The “seven swans a-swimming” in the song represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic church, including baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, anointing the sick, marriage, and holy orders. Swans themselves hold a spiritual meaning, representing purity, chastity, monogamy, and fidelity.

The eighth day of Christmas falls on January 1st, which signifies rebirth and new life. This day is also known as New Year’s Day and is a day to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Catholic church. The songwriter receives “eight maids a-milking” on this day, which represents the beatitudes or extra blessings of Jesus.

The generous gifts in the song were given to those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who seek righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted.

January 2 – The Ninth Day of Christmas

On the “ninth day of Christmas,” which is on January 2, many Christians remember St. Basil the Great, a historical figure who died in the first century but is considered a significant defender of the church.

The song’s “nine ladies dancing” correspond to the nine “fruits of the spirit” listed in the biblical book of Galatians, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

January 3 – The Tenth Day of Christmas

The “tenth day of Christmas” marks the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 3, first celebrated in 1530 as a chance to remember the moment Jesus was given his name, as told in the New Testament.

The “ten lords a-leaping” in the song symbolize the Ten Commandments, which are considered the foundation of Christianity and Judaism.

January 4 – The Eleventh Day of Christmas

On the “eleventh day of Christmas,” the gift comes in the form of “eleven pipers piping,” which represent the eleven faithful disciples of Jesus: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddaeus.

January 5 – The Twelfth Day of Christmas

January 5, also known as the Epiphany, celebrates the revelation of the incarnation of Jesus as God. The final gift from the song, the “twelve drummers drumming,” reflects the Apostles’ Creed with its twelve points of doctrine, including beliefs that Jesus died and was resurrected and will return again.

In Conclusion

The 12 Days of Christmas is full of religious symbols and deep meanings. It was created as a way to convey core religious values in a simple way to others, especially when Catholics were not allowed to teach their children about their faith.


1. What are the 12 days of Christmas?

The 12 days of Christmas is a Christian holiday that starts on December 25th and ends on January 5th. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is also known as Christmastide or Twelvetide. The 12 days are a time for reflection, prayer, and celebration. Each day has its own significance and is marked by different traditions and customs around the world.

2. What is the meaning behind the 12 days of Christmas?

The 12 days of Christmas have different meanings for different people. For Christians, the 12 days represent the time between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the three wise men who came to visit him bearing gifts. For others, the 12 days are simply a time for celebration and reflection, marking the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.

3. What are some popular traditions associated with the 12 days of Christmas?

There are many popular traditions associated with the 12 days of Christmas, such as caroling, gift-giving, and feasting. In some countries, such as the Philippines, people attend the “Simbang Gabi” or “Night Mass” for nine consecutive nights leading up to Christmas Eve. In Ireland, it is traditional to light a candle in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome Mary and Joseph. In some cultures, the 12th night is known as “Epiphany” or “Twelfth Night,” and is marked by special feasts and celebrations.

4. Is there a specific order to the 12 days of Christmas?

Yes, there is a specific order to the 12 days of Christmas. Each day is represented by a different symbol, such as a partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, and so on. The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a popular way to remember the order of the days and their associated symbols.

5. Why is the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” so popular?

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is popular because it is a fun and catchy way to remember the order of the 12 days and their associated symbols. It has been around for centuries and has been adapted and translated into many different languages. The song is often sung during the Christmas season, and many people enjoy singing along and trying to remember all of the different symbols.

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