“The 12 Days of Christmas” is a very old song which is traditionally sung at Christmas. Its origins and the name of its author are lost in the mists of time. Whatever the reasons for it being written, it offers a fantastic base on which to theme dinners and parties in the sometimes bleak period immediately after Christmas – or, indeed, at any time of the year.
The Period and Meaning of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
The twelve days of Christmas covers the period from Christmas to Epiphany which, according to the Christian faith, is when the three wise men visited the infant Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some scholars say the words of the song are symbols for Christian religious items like the Old and New Testaments and the Ten Commandments. Others say it was simply devised as a memory game.
It was, according to John Stokoe in an article in the January 1888 edition of Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend, when: “… in olden times, the days of the whole year wherein to make merry and to fraternize in mirth and good fellowship.” He goes on to explain how “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was sung as a game where if a singer made a mistake, they had to pay a forfeit.
The Words of “The Twelve Days of Christmas Song”
There are many regional and national variations of the words to this song. The series of articles which link with this one focuses on the words in Stokoe’s version of 1888 which are:
A partridge on a pear tree
Two turtle doves
Three French hens
Four colly birds
Five gold rings
Six geese a laying
Seven swans a-swimming
Eight maids a milking
Nine drummers drumming
Ten pipers piping
Eleven ladies dancing
Twelve lords a-leaping
There is a wonderful parody called “Christmas Countdown” released by Frank Kelly (of Father Ted fame) in the early 1980s. It is essentially the reading of a series of thank you letters written by Gobnait O’Lúnasa to Nuala for the gifts that keep arriving on a daily basis. On the twelfth day, Gobnait addresses Nuala as “slurry head” and signs off saying “I’m a broken man.”
Twelve Days Dinner Ideas and Party Themes
The words of this popular Christmas song can be used to theme a series of parties and dinner menus not just on the twelve days of Christmas itself, but at any other time of the year. However, early January would be a good time as it is often when post festivity blues can set in, particularly in the northern hemisphere when the days are short and the weather is cold.