The 12 Days of Christmas


Most of us get pretty annoyed when the Christmas decorations and paraphernalia show up in our stores shortly after Labor Day, or certainly well before Halloween.

However, as we all know, on December 26, the stores and most of our society whip any signs of Christmas out of sight and act like they can’t get rid of Christmas soon enough.

But there’s an alternative to that, which comes from our liturgical calendar of The Church Year. Using this calendar, Christmas does not even start until December 25, and then it continues for 12 full days.

After the 12th day of Christmas comes Epiphany, January 6, which is used to mark and celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men, the Magi, The Three Kings, who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus, indicating that He is the true King of The World.

This is why many of us who follow this calendar and custom do not take our Christmas tree down from within our homes until January 6.

It is worth noting that in some cultures Epiphany is an even bigger celebration and holiday than Christmas itself. You can find out all kinds of interesting things about Epiphany and its celebration on the internet, of course, so I won’t try to go into those details here.

One interesting thing about The 12 Days of Christmas is that it is best known as a Christmas carol. I know you’ve heard it and maybe have even at some time in your life memorized the verses, which add and repeat interesting gifts given by one’s “true love” on each of the 12 days.

A few years ago, there began to appear on the internet the explanation that each of the gifts given on the 12 days was an early Christian code for memorizing the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. Apparently since then, “Snopes” has de-bunked that as not factual.

I would just say this. If that is not factual, it’s O.K. with me. No big deal. However, the meaning given to each day’s gift is rather clever, and I believe could still be used to help enhance our spiritual education.

Here are the explanations which have been assigned to each of the day’s gifts. See if you don’t think they could be helpful as we ponder the very basics of our faith. Apparently, there are also several different explanations proposed, but these are the ones I found.

A partridge in a pear tree — the baby Jesus in the manger

2 turtle doves — the Old and New Testaments

3 French hens — Faith, Hope, and Love, the Theological virtues

4 Calling birds — the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

5 golden rings — the first five books of the Bible, the “Pentateuch”

6 geese a-laying — the six days of creation

7 swans a-swimming — the seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church

8 maids a-milking — the eight Beatitudes (Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc.)

9 ladies dancing — the nine Gifts of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)

10 lords a-leaping — The Ten Commandments

11 pipers piping — the eleven faithful disciples

12 drummers drumming — the twelve points of doctrine in The Apostles’ Creed

So, take it or leave it as any factual or historical reality, but it sure couldn’t hurt to ponder these great points of our faith during The 12 Days of Christmas.

Still, Merry Christmas to all. And a most hope-filled New Year in the knowledge and faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. His hope is our hope! His peace is our peace! Thank You, Jesus! And have a most-blessed Epiphany, as well. Amen!

[Kollmeyer, a Fayette County resident for 36 years, is Pastor Emeritus at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. Follow Pastor Scott Ness and this great church at Kollmeyer was most recently Interim Pastor at Word of God Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. Follow Pastor Jason Dampier and this great church at]