Once again, popular demand suggested a newsletter topic (no ivory towers around here). The question of the week deals with that odd carol full of birds, lords, and other unlikely gifts, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Is this yet another theological treatise whose Christian origins have been obscured?

Well, maybe, but the story proliferating on e-mail and personal home pages (not to mention WGN radio—shame on them!) contains more fiction than fact:

From 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were prohibited from practicing their faith at all. Possessing or professing anything Catholic could get you killed in any of a number of horrible ways. In response, the beleaguered believers wrote "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a covert way to teach the catechism. The song's "true love" is God, "me" is the believer, and each gift has spiritual significance:

1 Partridge in pear tree = Jesus on the cross
2 Turtle doves = Old and New Testaments
3 French hens = Faith, hope, and charity
4 Calling birds = Four Gospels and/or four evangelists
5 Golden rings = The Pentateuch
6 Geese a-laying = Six days of creation
7 Swans a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids a-milking = Eight Beatitudes
9 Ladies dancing = Nine fruits of the Spirit
10 Lords a-leaping = Ten Commandments
11 Pipers piping = Eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers drumming = Twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Like the candy cane story, this tale begins with a skewed version of English history. In 1558, England's Catholic queen, "Bloody Mary" Tudor, was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. Though Protestants were now in power, and open practice of Catholicism was forbidden by law (until the Emancipation Act of 1829), this was hardly ...

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