‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ sounds a jolly carol without hinting that it was actually a catechetical device written by the Jesuits in the 16th century as a means of (secret) instruction of the basic teachings of the Catholic faith. Outward, and even private worship, was banned under the reign of Henry VIII until Elizabeth I. It was not uncommon at the time for homes to be raided since priests used to secretly baptize a child or give a dying person the Last Rites. So the faithful, especially the children, who are learning Christian values are safe from persecution, ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ was popularized. Here’s the meaning of the first seven.
On the first day of Christmas
The partridge in a pear tree symbolized God's sacrifice for His flock. The partridge referred to Jesus Christ, who is the singer's 'true love', while the pear tree referred to the cross on which Christ died to redeem the world.
On the second day of Christmas
Two turtle doves refer to both the Old and New Testaments, which remind the faithful how God revealed Himself in history and how the chosen people are tasked to tell God's story to the world. In other versions, the two turtle doves represent the two natures of Jesus Christ: human and divine.
On the third day of Christmas
Faith, hope and love are the three theological virtues that the faithful should strive to live by. Alternatively, the meaning of three French hens could also be the Holy Trinity, or the Three Wise men.
On the fourth day of Christmas
God reconciled to sinners and this proclamation of Good News can be read in the Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is what the 'four calling birds' refer to.
On the fifth day of Christmas
The 'five golden rings' refers to the Old Testament's collection of the first five books called the Torah. This collection of books is also called the Pentateuch, and it is composed of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Torah is considered the most sacred of the Holy Scriptures, which is why those who are reading it should cover their heads as a sign of reverence.
On the sixth day of Christmas
The 'six geese a laying' reminds the faithful of the Sabbath. God rested on the seventh day of creation because he was done on the sixth day.
On the seventh day of Christmas
The Seven Sacraments are represented in the song by 'seven swans a swimming.' The sacraments are baptism; the Eucharist, or Christ's body and blood that the faithful take during the Communion; reconciliation, which consists of the elements of conversion, confession and celebration; confirmation, a renewal of mature Christian commitment; marriage; holy orders, or the ordination of the priests; and lastly, the anointing of the sick or the giving of the last rites.