On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Legend has it, that the familiar carol has a symbolic spiritual meaning. There are different stories told about the reason for this coded symbolism and even differences in the possible meanings. Still, I like attributing something special to what could otherwise be a frivolous tune. In this version, the “true love” is God. It is God who gives each day’s gift. We know that all we have is from the Lord and that he delights in giving to us, his bride. In that spirit, delve with me into His delight.
The first day God gives the partridge in a pear tree, representing Christ himself and the cross by which he saved and redeemed us.
Two turtle doves are the human and Divine nature of Jesus (or the old and new testaments). Three French hens are faith, hope, and love. These are the virtues that enable us to live in a Christlike manner. The four calling birds the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Five gold rings are the old testament books of the Torah.
Six geese a-laying are the days of creation in which God spoke into being all living things, the earth and universe to sustain us, all the beauty of nature to enchant us.
Seven swans a-swimming are the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-2) The maids a-milking are the Eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing: fruits of the Holy Spirit–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness (Kindness), Generosity, Mildness, Faithfulness, Modesty (Chastity). (Galatians 5:22-23)
Ten leaping Lords are the Ten Commandments. Eleven pipers the faithful Apostles. Twelve drummers drumming are the points of faith in the Apostles creed. All of these are gifts from God that help us love and serve him. But what are the days themselves?
The twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas day and end on January 6th, the feast of Epiphany. This is a day that commemorates the three foreign wise men who went searching for the Christ Child. So great was their desire to see the newborn king that they traveled long and far, following a sign God put in the sky. They were not Jews, not God’s “chosen” people. Yet in seeking the Christ, they found him. They knocked and the door was opened to them. They came bearing gifts to honor the king, yet they would receive the greatest gift of all–salvation.
Through these wise men, God made clear that Jesus came for all, long before he was able to proclaim it himself. And so I invite you to join me in celebrating these twelve days, reflecting on the richness of faith given by God for our redemption, and in the welcome Jesus has for each seeking heart.