The song may seem all about gifts. But there is more to the name of the 12 Days of Christmas than just lots of presents. The 12 Days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day and they last until the night of January 5th. The 5th is also known as the Twelfth Night.
While it isn’t necessarily an American tradition. All across Europe the 12 Days are celebrated and have been since the middle ages.
The 12 Days themselves traditionally celebrate a feast day for a saint and have different celebrations attached to them.
Christmas Day is actually the first day of Christmas and is dedicated to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Boxing Day, or St. Stephens Day is the day after Christmas. St. Stephen was the first Christian man to die for his faith. The second day of Christmas is also famous in the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas.” As the song goes, Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen.
December 27 is St. John the Apostle’s Day. St. John was one of Jesus’ friends and Disciples.
December 28. This day of celebration is known as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This day is dedicated to the remembrance of the innocent lives lost to King Herod. When the king was trying to find and kill Baby Jesus. Many other innocent baby boys were killed in the process, and this day of Christmas honors this loss.
New Year’s Day is also the eighth day of Christmas. It is a day dedicated to celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus.
January 3: The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This day celebrates when Jesus was officially “named” in the Jewish Temple. While different churches will celebrate this occasion on different days—it is traditionally known as the 10th day of Christmas.
January 6: Epiphany. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. It is sometimes called Three Kings’ Day, and in some traditions celebrated as Little Christmas. On this day Christians recognize the manifestation of Christ as both fully human and fully divine.
What does The Twelve Days of Christmas mean? There is a theory that all of the “gifts” in the song have ties to Christianity. This makes sense, given the 12 Days of Christmas themselves are all tied to the Christian faith.
1. The partridge in a pear tree stands for Jesus Christ
2. The two turtledoves stand for the Old and New Testaments
3. Three French hens stand for faith, hope, and charity.
4. The four calling birds are the four gospels
5. The five gold rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament (the Law).
6. The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation
7. Seven swans a-swimming signifies the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit, or the Seven Sacraments.
8. The eight maids a-milking represent the beatitudes.
9. The Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Spirit (see the fifth chapter of Galatians).
10. Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.
12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed.