The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Mythbusters: debunking the “12 Days of Christmas”

I had almost forgotten about this, until the Concord Pastor brought it up. It’s worth noting, once again: the oft-repeated lore about the true meaning of “The 12 Days of Christmas” isn’t true.


Two very large red flags indicate that the claim about the “secret” origins of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is nothing more than a fanciful tale, similar to the many apocryphal “hidden meanings” of various nursery rhymes:
* There is absolutely no documentation or supporting evidence for this claim whatsoever, other than mere repetition of the claim itself;

* The claim appears to date only to the 1990s, marking it as likely an invention of modern day speculation rather than historical fact.

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

And then hit “delete” the next time you get an email trumpeting the true story behind this old carol.

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Lynnea Urania Stuart

posted December 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Unless the writer of this article can cite strong examples from the literature of the times that people really did understand and use these symbols, I’m compelled to believe that the writer is simply fitting in numbers from the Bible. I’m especially inclined to believe this since he applied the 5 books of the Torah to “gold rings” while speaking of the gospel writers as “birds.” What self-respecting Christian in those times would give a more glittering meaning to the Old Testament than the New? It doesn’t make sense.

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posted December 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm

This poses a problem for EWTN, if this article is any indication:

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posted December 16, 2009 at 2:12 pm

My question is this,if you weren’t there and don’t know who made
the song how do you REALLY know what the meaning was?
Snopes isn’t infallible! (at least not at last check)
After all to be a Catholic was a death sentence
in ‘merry ole’ England’ many Catholics were hung,
drawn and quartered. Everything from from home
studying to baked goods were suspect(ie pretzels).
Churches were destroyed
priests were murdered, even Shakespeare wrote his plays in code as
you can see from the many books that present him not only
as a Catholic but a faithful one.
Snopes can go research the modern myths;leave the
Christian ones to faith alone.

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Fr Austin

posted December 17, 2009 at 10:13 am

I’ve often gotten those emails about this song – and there are usually some variations in the meanings too. However, whether this was the true meaning of the song in its composition or not, the fact that Catholics look at it and try to see meaningful faith references or mnemonic devices does not make them wrong. The Italians have a great line that I love to quote when I share stories: “Se non e’ vero, e’ bentrovato” (loosely translated: “If it ain’t true, it still makes a great story.”)
So, I hope you read it before you delete, and be grateful for the rich gift of our faith – as well as those who suffered for it. Peace!

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posted December 17, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Move along Deacon’s Bench readers. There’s nothing to see here, but another attempt to propogate divisive controversy among Catholics, and this time with a seasonal flavor! Tune in next time when the good deacon reports that Santa Claus is a popular fiction, with all the sordid details!
As always, I will pray for Deacon Greg that he finally shuffles off his mainstream media mentality, renounces his role as religious gossip columnist, and focus on spreading the Gospel.
P.S. I know this will never be posted, as you are more concerned with you and your friends’ reputations than writing a tight column.

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Msgr Pope

posted December 18, 2009 at 2:13 am

Thanks, I too get a lot of emial on this.
Hey Daniel, Chill! THe Gospel comes in many ways and levels

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posted December 18, 2009 at 9:54 am

Never let the truth get int he way of a good story. Especially if we like the good story because it fits our catholic ideals.
If it is such a great secret catechism device, why is it only sung at Christmas? Do we only teach the faith in December?

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Your Name

posted December 18, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Here is the problem with the internet (and modern journalism). You have one gossip columnist quoting another gossip site and people think it equals the truth. Please read the story from the site that Deacon Greg is basing his headline and judgment. They did some research, but it’s hardly definitive.
I never gave much credence to the original story about the “12 Days of Christmas” as a secret catechism. My point in challenging this new revelation from Sn—.com is that it is frivolous and ugly.
I’m sorry that it offends the Gradgrinds and McChoakumchilds, but Christmas carols can be excellent catechetical devices (secret or not), becuase they shine a wonderful and beautiful (if not empirical)light on the story of Christ’s Nativity at the very time that we are celebrating the event.
Tune in next time when reveals that “The Little Drummer Boy” is not scripturally accurate!

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Bill Haley

posted December 18, 2009 at 3:23 pm

The song itself seems to bear some level of symbology, otherwise it is simply frivolous. Snopes is not a source that is necessarily full of understanding of Catholic history and symmbology, which is far richer than an email debunking site could contain.
So, just because Snopes says so, does not make it so.

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