Saturday, December 13, 2014

origins

Twelve Days of Christmas Pictoral

There are a lot of teachings about Christmas Carols.  Some of them are so good that I want to believe them – but I can’t.  I am and I am a seeker of truth, which is a force as powerful as it is beautiful.   

My favorite mythical explanation is about “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  Storytellers allege that it began as a code, a secret catechism of sorts, sung to teach children in the late middle ages by Catholics in England (after Parliament emancipated the Catholics).  Since they were prohibited to practice their faith, the ever-musical church invented the lyrics to teach children the foundations of their faith they were forbidden to discuss openly.

It’s a heartwarming story, but I have found no supporting history of this.  Instead, I found that this misnomer was begun (at the earliest) in the 1980’s – and in America.  I think the story of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was mistaken for another carol, one called “A New Dial” taught to children around the same historical period, using a clock as a model (An almanac from 1625, in the Bagford Collection, contains the song "A New Dial"  already quite old when the almanac was printed).  Since TWELVE is a number that signifies Biblical completion -and speaks of perfect, balanced government-  it makes sense that the songs were mistaken for each other.  They were sung by the same people in the same country... Weren't they?


In truth, Christmas carols such as The Twelve Days of Christmas DO speak of Christ – and of God’s incredible heart to give to His people.  This particular song has been sung through years of drought, famine, plagues, and the crusades.  Their lyrics were designed to intrigue people when the majority of the population could not read (Christianity was not forbidden, but Bible reading was not the norm).   As much as they were celebratory, Christmas carols were evangelical in nature.


From my research, this is what I know about the carol that we have grown to love as a people – and still don’t know very well:

What we do know is that the Twelve Days of Christmas is that it signifies the TWELVE DAYS between the celebration of birth of Christ (December 25) and when the Catholic church celebrates the coming of the Magi (Epiphany, January 6). 

The song’s earliest printed version was in the 1780 children's book Mirth Without Mischief .  "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was originally printed in French (which makes sense since the partridge wasn’t brought into England until the late 1770’s).   


It is sung about a one-way love-affair.  The joyful caroler sings: “On the first Day of Christmas my TRUE LOVE gave to me…”  There is never a “and I gave to Him…”

We see from the very beginning that God’s love to us is what defines our holiday – our receiving was a surprise.  The benevolent giver was “my true love” – sung by both men and women.


Christians were taught to use this term carefully – because it was reserved for God.  The early church wouldn’t even say His name outside of prayer (it was considered reckless or even blasphemous) – but they confessed that their HEAVENLY FATHER was their true love.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin the song.  It will count-down to Christmas, rather than Epiphany.  It will hopefully be as delightful as it is evangelical.