They seem to play Christmas songs on the radio earlier every year. Few stores wait until after Thanksgiving to begin their Christmas marketing. And the day after Thanksgiving has become a major shopping day, sometimes called “Green Friday” (the color of money) but more recently “Black Friday” because of the black ink that represents profit (as opposed to red ink, deficit).
Meanwhile, the Church tries to stave off the world’s marketing by trying to hold on to the church calendar. Advent begins this year on Sunday, December 1, this year, and lasts until Christmas Eve, which begins the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the evening of January 5; Epiphany is January 6. Many pastors insist that singing Christmas songs wait until Christmas season, and so they allow Advent songs but not Christmas songs in December.We, however, are children of Grace, not rules. With the whole world singing songs that celebrate the birth of the Son, why should the Church hang back? We sing with joy and enthusiasm, knowing that God is at work in the world: someone may hear the Good News in a new way because in their darkness they ‘hear the angels sing’. We sing praise that continues throughout the year. Many songs have overt Christian meaning. Some are more cryptic, and a few have little or nothing to do with Christmas, really. One of the most cryptic, in my opinion, is The Twelve Days of Christmas. The legend is that at the time when it was illegal to be Roman Catholic in England because of the King’s rift with the Pope and his church rules, the song was developed to help people learn and remember tenets of faith.
According to this legend, the Twelve Days are the days from Christmas until Epiphany. The ‘true love’ is God, and the ‘me’ in the song is the Christian who sings it. The partridge in the pear tree is Christ on the cross (a mother partridge will sacrifice itself to protect her young). Two turtle doves : Old and New Testaments
Three French hens : Gifts of the Spirit: faith, hope, and love. (1 Corinthians 13)
Four calling birds : Four Gospels
Five gold rings : the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (Books of Moses)
Six geese a-laying : six days of creation
Seven swans a-swimming : Gifts of the Spirit, referenced in various places, but difficult to count as seven depending on your translation: 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11
Eight maids a-milking : The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)
Nine ladies dancing : The Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
Ten lords a-leaping : The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
Eleven pipers piping : the eleven faithful disciples, excluding Judas as the twelfth
Twelve drummers drumming : twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed
If you add up all the gifts you’d receive – one on the first day; two on the second added to that one for a total of three; three on the third day added to those three for a total of six; etc…. the total is 364. I’m sure we could place that number next to the number of days in a year and draw some meaning there as well.
Since the “meanings” are a little arbitrary they were probably infused into the song after it was already well known. But once you know The Truth, it is evident all around you. So sing! Sing along with the Christmas songs as you shop for gifts, given in remembrance of the Gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child, and the Gifts of the Spirit, and the Gift of God’s only Son! Sing and celebrate the Good News: Jesus Christ is born!