12 Days of Christmas

Out of ideas for Christmas presents? How about flying turtles? Birds making a telephone call? Geese in bed?... What is this all about? Relax, this is just a nice traditional English carol. Merry Christmas everyone!

[video and explanations submitted by Mike]

On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the third day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Eight Maids a-Milking
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a-Milking
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the tenth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Ten Lords a-Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a-Milking
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
(I sent) Eleven Pipers Piping
Ten Lords a-Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a-Milking
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Twelve Drummers Drumming
Eleven Pipers Piping
Ten Lords a-Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a-Milking
Seven Swans a-Swimming
Six Geese a-Laying
Five Gold Rings (5 golden rings)
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

MY TRUE LOVE= (a romantic expression still in use) My girlfriend/boyfriend

PARTRIDGE= A low flying bird (see picture)
Partridges are never seen to be on a tree (not even pear trees), but oh well, maybe that's why this partridge is so special.

TURTLE DOVES= A breed of doves which are dark grey and often used two of them a symbol of love. (see picture)

FRENCH HENS= Any of 4 different breeds of hens originated in France. I suppose they must be "faverolles" here, since they were very popular because they layed many more eggs in winter (or so I read), when they were most needed (see picture).

CALLING BIRDS= Black birds (see picture)
This is an alteration of the word "collie", an old word which means "black as coal".

GOLD/GOLDEN= A gold ring is made of gold, a golden ring looks like gold, especially in colour, but it is not necessary made of gold. Maybe that's why the woman says "5 gold rings" and the man corrects her "5 golden rings", ha ha. Personally, I always learnt "5 golden rings" in this carol, maybe Americans are more splendid in their presents. But actually, the "golden rings" refer to the Ring-necked Pheasant, so they're birds too (sorry).

GEESE= the plural form of "goose" (see picture)

A-LAYING= Laying (an egg). If an animal legs an egg (well, not all animals can), they produce an egg.
In Old English the gerund form of the verb was produced with the prefix A- and the suffix –ING. In modern English the prefix has been lost, but in some rare occasions is still used in poetry or songs to provide for a needed extra syllable, and of course, it survives in old language like this ancient Christmas carol.

A-MILKING= Milking. To milk an animal (a milkable animal, that is) is to squeeze their teats (he he) to get milk out of them. All mammals produce milk, but not all mammals are milkable, so be careful :)

A-LEAPING= Leaping, jumpling.

PIPERS PIPING= A piper is a man who plays "the pipes", an old Celtic instrument still used in some parts of Europe, most famous in Scotland (see picture). If they are piping, they are playing the pipes.

Notice something English people love (especially in the past): alliteration. This consists of repeating the same sound two or more times in the same line. For example:

/S/: seven swams a-swiming
/L/: eight lords a-leaping
/T/: two turtle doves
etc.

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day (25 Dec) and ending Epiphany's Eve (5 Jan). This period is also known as Christmastide or Christmas time. Christmas decoration is taken down on the Twelfth Day because that is when Christmas is over. Some still celebrate Twelfth Night as the biggest night for parties and gift-giving. Traditionally, a Yule Log (a big log used for Christmas) was lit on the first night and every day it was put out and lit again to burn for some time every night.

In the past, little gifts were exchanged every one of these twelve days, and that's where the song comes from.

4:20            
 
 
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