Tuesday, December 6, 2016
THE ORIGIN OF THE PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE
There is one Christmas Carol that has always puzzled me. What do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come outof the pear tree, have to do with Christmas?
According to Wikipedia, the meaning of The Twelve Days of Christmas has yet to be satisfactorily explained. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, "Suggestions have been made that the gifts have significance, as representing the food or sport for each month of the year. Importance [certainly has] long been attached to the Twelve Days, when, for instance, the weather on each day was carefully observed to see what it would be in the corresponding month of the coming year. Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate origin of the chant, it seems probable [that] the lines that survive today both in England and France are merely an irreligious travesty."
On the other hand, modern folklore claims that the song's lyrics were written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England (1558 until 1829). In this catechism version there are two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church. 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 & 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-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-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.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
Even if it's lore - and who's to say? - it's good lore.
Gerrie Ferris Finger