Whenever the phrase, “twelve days of Christmas”, is heard, most folks automatically think of the song. But tradition, way back in antiquity of old religious practice, holds the twelve days as formal doctrine. Generally speaking, the first day is December 25th, the second day is St. Stephen’s Mass or Boxing Day and the third day is the Feast of St. John.
The Third Day is a low key feast, celebrating the blessing of the wine for the main meal of the Feast of St. John. Traditionally, in Europe, wine is poured into a glass and passed around to family and guests, including children.
Regarding the song, one story claims that the lyrics were actually an undercover way of celebrating the Roman Catholic traditions of the holiday. Because Roman Catholics were persecuted in 17th Century England. The price for practicing the religion ranged from imprisonment to capital punishment. So the seemingly secular gifts actually had meaning as religious icons:
1st Day’s partridge represents Jesus. 2nd Day’s turtle doves are the two Bible testaments. 3rd day’s hens are Faith, Hope and Charity. Four colling birds (blackbirds) represent Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The 5 Rings are the Pentatuch. Six geese represents the creation story. Seven Swans are the seven sacraments of Catholicism. Eight maids are the eight beatitudes. Nine Ladies Dancing are the nine fruits of the spirit. The ten Lords are the Ten Commandments. Eleven Pipers are the eleven faithful apostles. And the twelve drummers are the 12 points of the Apostle’s Creed.
So, today in much of the West, is the Third Day of Christmas. Christians might be celebrating with a feast and meditating upon faith, hope and charity.
Of course the Eastern Orthodox traditions show up on different days according to their calendar system.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you enjoy your religious freedoms.