What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?
During much of the british invasion and hostile occupation, Roman Catholics in Ireland were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Loyal church fathers 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.
As you share the Christmas holidays with your (step)children, and as you sing this popular “secular” carol, you can remind your kids that Christmas originated as a holy-day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and His gifts to the world. The song also serves to remind us that these aren’t the first days we Christians have faced persecution for believing in our God.
Here’s an interpretation of the secret code words of this very special song:
– The “true Love” referred to is Jesus Christ (“God is Love”)
-The partridge in a pear tree also was Jesus Christ – a dove (bird) hung on a tree (cross)
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments – doves, here, representing God’s Word to mankind
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love – the “F” in French and Faith being a mnemonic to aid memory
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John – actually, this was originally four “coley” birds (or black birds) who have a loud voice which carries throughout the land
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament – the golden truths given by God to man
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation – laying = birth, or new life
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy – another mnemonic: “S” for Seven Swans and Spirit
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes – young maidens were considered beautiful and blessings
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit–Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control – dancing represented joy of receiving the fruits
-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments – members of the house of lords made most of the laws of the land
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples – pipers being part of an ensemble that delivered music to the world
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed – which was often learned in a chanting style, “drumming”
Merry CHRISTmas to you and your whole, wonderful family.
Love each other extra this next few weeks!