The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a holiday standard. The lyrics help holiday carolers everywhere remember the symbols of the Christian celebration of the days from Jesus’s birth on December 25 to the visit of the Magi on January 6.
Granted, it appears that the song was secular in origin and then assigned Christian meaning later. However we can still take to heart the assigned Catholic meaning of the song and its twelve days of fanciful gifts.
The gifts mentioned in the song are strange, to say the least. Who needs ten leaping lords? But they can still help us understand the Catholic faith better. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” can especially help single Catholics enter into the mysteries of the faith more deeply!
Want to know how? Read on.
A partridge in a pear tree
The partridge represents Jesus. A partridge is willing to give its life to save its children by feigning injury to draw predators away. That sounds a lot like the actions of Christ to me!
Why does this matter to you as a single Catholic? Because we should always be striving after Christ, always trying to fall more deeply in love with him. Honestly, no other love will compare to his love. It is useless to pursue any other love if we’re not also pursuing Jesus in our daily lives.
Two turtle doves
More birds! These two represent the Old and New Testaments. Turtle doves form such strong pairs and bonds that they’ve come to be represent devoted love.
For Catholics, we can’t have the Old Testament without the New. The New Testament wouldn’t make sense without the Old. They form a strong pair! This line offers a reminder that study of scripture is paramount in the faith and in coming to know and love God more and more.
Single Catholics have a unique opportunity of time and freedom to do deep dives into the Bible and grow in this knowledge. Take advantage of that this year!
Three French hens
French hens are known for being extremely good egg-layers, laying up to four eggs per week. But what they stand for in the song is faith, hope, and love. Stretching all of this a bit, if French hens are good at laying eggs, it could be said that they represent the theological virtues because these virtues should permeate our lives and flow out into the world.
If you’re not growing in virtue while you’re single, a relationship isn’t going to suddenly make you do so. You have to start cultivating true virtue in your life now, before you start sharing your life with another. These three are the central ones to focus on and from which all the others flow.
Four calling birds
So many birds! These four are meant to represent the four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In an older version of the song, they were “colly birds” which meant blackbird, not calling birds, which we assume just means birds singing out.
Interestingly, blackbirds often call out from high branches in trees or rooftops. The four Gospels literally call out the good news to all the world, spreading the word of God and his goodness. Not intrusively, not abrasively, but firmly, gently, and lovingly. This takes a lot of discipline to learn to do in our lives and it’s a discipline well worth cultivating.
As a Catholic single, you have a chance to practice at this before committing to another person. Once you do commit to someone, you’ll need to be able to communicate firmly, gently, and lovingly, to all members of your family, to build up your family life together and, thus, the love of Christ between you.
Five golden rings
These rings represent the first five books of the Bible. Those books chronicle man’s fall into sin and God’s unending love in sending a savior.
Gold rings are pretty expensive, so this could be looked at as God giving his most expensive gift to save us: Jesus. Acknowledging that we are sinners in need of a savior is something we’ll have to come back to again and again in our lives. We will never be perfect here on earth and we will always need a Savior every moment of every day.
While single, you have this opportunity to grow in humility, which can often be hard, painful work, without the responsibility of a family or partner. This is an exceptional gift, as you’ll come into any relationship (and all of life, for that matter) with a better sense of self, of God, and of your place in all of it. Humility is often uncultivated and takes massive transformation to attain. That gets harder when you add more people into the mix. At least beginning to uncover this deficiency and need in your life will set you on a great path moving forward, whatever your vocation turns out to be.
Six geese a-laying
This song really likes the bird imagery! These birds represent the six days of creation. Notice how these six are laying eggs, doing work? This correlates to the story of creation when God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. It reminds us that we should rest, too! Yes, man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man. However, cultivating good work habits is crucial for a healthy family life and spiritual life.
This is crucial, even while you’re single! If you never learn to stop and appreciate all that’s around you and with you, you will constantly overlook the goodness God has placed in your life. This is important in the hustle and bustle of our lives these day and when lines between work and personal life keep getting blurred more and more. Learning and practicing the importance of rest while single will give you a good habit to carry into a relationship and family life.
Will your rest look different once you’re in a relationship or once you have a family? Definitely. But if you know how important it is before getting into your vocation, you’ll be able to lead your family in this important aspect, too.
Seven swans a-swimming
How many different birds does one person need? These seven swans are supposed to represent the seven sacraments. Just as the swans stir up the water they swim in, so do the sacraments stir up the grace of God within us.
As a single person, there are only so many of the sacraments you can receive and only a couple of those you can receive more than once or even regularly. Of course, those two are reconciliation and receiving the Eucharist. Daily reception of the Eucharist when possible is an amazing way to grow closer to Christ and become more like him. Monthly or even weekly Confession is a wonderful way to become more aware of our failings and God’s grace at work in our lives.
Once kids come into the picture (and jobs and other responsibilities), receiving these as often might become more difficult. So receive them in abundance while you definitely have the opportunity! The grace you receive from them will follow you in whatever path your life takes. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to receive them just as often once you are living your vocation, but that doesn’t mean that preparing yourself now is a waste.
Eight maids a-milking
Eights maids milking represent the beatitudes. I have no long, drawn out explanation for the relationship between ladies milking cows and the beatitudes except for maybe that the life of faith is always a life of work and sacrifice. The beatitudes lay out the attitudes and actions Christians should take to live Christ-like lives.
Life isn’t just a waiting game until you get married or enter priesthood or religious life, it’s meant to be lived fully now. Getting deep into the beatitudes while single will give you a great foundation of the Christian life lived well and this foundation and these attitudes will deeply enrich all of your future relationships.
Nine ladies dancing
These represent the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience (and forbearance), goodness (and kindness), mildness, fidelity, modesty, and chastity (and continence). You’ll notice that there are actual twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but some are similar so they were grouped together to keep the song pattern in tact.
If you are not experiencing any or few of the fruits of the Holy Spirit while you are single, it’s an indicator that your spiritual life needs a boost. Why is that important to confront while you’re single? Because the more you can have yourself figured out and your issues straightened out and your faith solid, the better any relationship will be. You’ll be a better person and more able to adapt to the unknowns of life (especially life with another person) while maintaining your faith.
Plus, fruits are good and we should be partaking of them all the time! The fruits of the Holy Spirit are an essential part of the spiritual food pyramid, so eat up.
Ten lords a-leaping
These ten lords represent the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the stately, solid foundation of our moral lives, and that’s kind of like being a lord. If you’re not abiding by the Ten Commandments now, you won’t magically begin to when you’re in a relationship.
If you’re not living the Ten Commandments while you’re single, you should re-evaluate your faith, your goals in life, and why you aren’t, in addition to putting the brakes on looking for a relationship. If you’ve fallen astray, get back up, ask for God’s forgiveness, and try again.
Eleven pipers piping
These represent the eleven faithful apostles who, even though most of them abandoned Jesus or flat-out denied him, still remained faithful and then carried him and his message throughout the world. We can learn so much from the apostles!
We can do this whether we’re single or not. However, cultivating relationships with these great saints while single will give you a fantastic support system for the rest of your life and especially as you enter your vocation.
Twelve drummers drumming
The twelve drummers represent the twelve points of doctrine laid out in the Apostles’ Creed. This is what it is to be Catholic, this is what we believe unequivocally. Knowing them, living them, sorting them out within yourself is so crucial. It’s crucial while you’re single so that you go into a marriage, or any relationship, informed and understanding of what we believe. It’s too often that people enter into Catholic marriage and one or both later realize that they either don’t know what the Catholic Church actually teaches or decides they don’t believe what the Catholic Church believes. This can cause so much strife in a relationship and in a family.
Knowing ahead of time can literally be relationship-saving. Yes, people do change no matter what, but starting off really steeped in the beliefs of the Church is an indispensable tool that will strengthen you individually, and you as a couple and family. Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
Know what the Church believes!
Bonus: True Love
This is the person giving all of the gifts mentioned above and, I hope at this point obviously, it represents God our loving Father who spares no good gift for his children, not even his only son. He is who we should be falling in love with day after day and loving ever more deeply each day. He is our real goal and true home. Without a relationship with Him, any other relationship will be lacking. This Christmas season, don’t forget who is the author of all love and who loves you more than any other being ever could or ever will.
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