"I heard there were secret meanings in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. What's the code?"
My, codes and the Bible and now codes in songs. Where will it all end?!? The truth is, there are indeed hidden meanings in this traditional Christmas carol. (I am indebted to Ann Ball and the Handbook of Catholic Sacraments for most of this information.)
In England, during the Protestant Reformation, Roman Catholics were not allowed to openly practice their faith. Although Catholic children still received catechism privately, they were not allowed to recite their lessons publically, and so the learning curve was greatly expanded. In order to help them learn more quickly, The Twelve Days of Christmas was written to remind them of what they'd learned.
In the song the "True Love" that gives the extravagant gifts is God. The recipients of the gifts was symbolic of every baptized Christian. The Partridge in a Pear Tree represents Jesus Christ. Mother partridges are known for pretending to be injured whenever a predator nears the nest so she can decoy the danger from her nestlings. The message here is Christ has also made the ultimate sacrifice to protect his "children."
The rest of the symbolism goes like this:
The two Turtle Doves represent the Old and the New Testaments. Three French Hens are Faith, Hope, and Charity from 1st Corinthians 13.13. The Four Calling Birds represent the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the Five Golden Rings are the Torah, the first five books in the Old Testament.
The six Geese A-Laying indicate the six days of creation (yes, six days of creation -- God rested on the seventh). Seven Swans A-Swimming are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1st Corinthians 12.29-30. The Eight Maids A-Milking are the eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5.1-9. The Nine Ladies Dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23.
The Ten Lords A-Leaping represent the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.1-17. The Eleven Pipers Piping are the faithful eleven apostles and the Twelve Drummers Drumming represents the twelve points of faith found in the Apostle's Creed.
I found some of the analogies to be rather insightful. The Four Calling Birds as the gospels seemed rather apropos. On the other hand, almost no matter how I count them I come up with a lot more Spiritual gifts than eight.
In any event, The Twelve Days of Christmas is filled with meanings that point to God. In this light, it's a very appropriate song in this time of year. May you have a blessed Christmas season.