One repeating Christmas story which is more legendary yet interesting in it's development as 'fact' (through the world-wide web vine) is about the origin of this popular Christmas song. This story is coming from the middle ages that Christmas was extended from a one-day celebration to a 12-day celebration. It begins with Christmas day and ends with the Epiphany twelve days later.
The story of the song develops that during this time period (mid-1500's to the early 1800's) people of the Catholic faith were being repressed by laws in England. To hide their Christianity but teach their faith, believers came up with a song that was a catechism for children to learn the Catholic faith, and each of the gifts were a clue to this.
Some believe the meaning of the song is as follows:
- My True Love = God
- Gave to Me = being baptized,
- The Partridge in the Pear Tree = a direct reference to Jesus the Savior in the first verse of the song.
- 2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
- 3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
- 4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
- 5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
- 6 Geese A-Laying = the six days of creation
- 7 Swans A-Swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
- 8 Maids A-Milking = the eight beatitudes
- 9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
- 10 Lords A-Leaping = the ten commandments
- 11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
- 12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
Others believe the song was simply a delightful rhyme set to music. The song was developed and used as a "memory and forfeits game" that was played by the children of this time period. The game was played by a leader reciting the first verse, and continued around, each child reciting the next verse.
Many Christians do celebrate January 6 as the Epiphany, also known as the 12th Day of Christmas, the Twelfth Night, Three King's Day. The word epiphany means an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being; an illuminating discovery as when the Magi finally found the baby Jesus.
Note that this story does not have "hard evidence" as to the true nature of the song and is more likely anecdotal. It can certainly be used today to teach a part of Christianity. We repeat this story because it is a fun song to learn as well as other Christmas-related songs - no matter what your faith.