“And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.” Micah 5:4a
Dear Redeemer Family:
Christmas isn’t just a day. It isn’t just a season. Christmas is an event! It is exactly what the word means: Christ – Mas(s), a celebration of Christ. Among the faithful, it is always. Many of you will be reading these words as we are in the Season of Christmas, which goes for twelve days, and culminates on the Day of Epiphany, the evening before which is called “Twelfth Night” (that’s where Shakespeare got the title of his play of the same name, although it has little to do with date).
Lately, I’ve been reading the lyrics of some of our most beloved Christmas carols. The words of some of the older ones are the most powerful, and sometimes the most obscure. But, that shouldn’t be too surprising, as the lyrics are often poetry, and so are symbolic. Often the tune was attached to the poetic lyrics later. And although we may run through our lives humming the tune of a song, as that is often what sticks with us, it is really the words which strike home. One of the strangest of our Christmas carols is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It is the most symbolic. Here is what it means, and why it is:
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ (Christ on the cross).
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
-Four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
-Five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
-Six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-Eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
-Ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
-Eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-Twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.
Now, we may sing it with fuller meaning and understanding. Merry Christmas to all!