There is one Christmas carol that has had me baffled. What in the world
do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially that
partrridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with
Christmas? Today I found out!
>From l558 until l829, Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to
practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as
a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning; the
surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their
church.Ý Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious
reality which the children could remember.
The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ. Two turtle doves were the
Old and New Testaments. Three French hens stood for faith, hope and
love. The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John.
The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of
the Old Testament. The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of
creation. Seven swans a-swimmig represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy
Spirit. Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exortation, Contribution, Leadership,
The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing
were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience,
Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control.
The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments. Eleven pipers piping
stood for the eleven faithful disciples. Twelve drummers drumming
symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
So there is your history lesson for today. Now I know how that strange
song became a Christmas Carol.