The Twelve Days of Christmas

Legend holds that the beloved carol was actually a tool to help children learn Christian teachings. Here's what the gifts mean.

When Oliver Cromwell came to power in England, Catholics were not permitted to practicetheir faith openly. Tradition holds that Catholic parents developed "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to teach children their beliefs.

The partridge in a pear tree

represents Jesus (the partridge will sacrifice its life to save its young).

Two turtle doves

: The Old and New Testaments

Three French hens

: Faith, hope, and charity, or the three gifts of the Wise Men

Four calling birds


: The four Evangelists--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Five golden rings

: The first five books of the Old Testament

Six geese a-laying

: The six days of creation described in Genesis

Seven swans a-swimming

: The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord)

Eight maids a-milking

: The eight Beatitudes

Nine ladies dancing

: The nine choirs of angels (Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and regular angels); or the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control).

Ten lords a-leaping

: The Ten Commandments

Eleven pipers piping

: The eleven faithful Apostles

Twelve drummers drumming

: The twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed

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