12 Days of Christmas

Christmas season will officially start in just a few weeks, but I thought we would get a head start before enjoying a Thanksgiving song next week.

The Twelve Days of Christmas is an English Christmas Carol that resolves around a series of gifts “my true love gave to me.”

Do you enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas?
Do you enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas?

The song was published in 1780 in England. The song is believed to be of French origin and was printed without any music.  The song was originally performed as a chant. The earliest printed version was of “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball”, as part of a 1780 children’s book, Mirth without Mischief.

The exact origins and meaning of the song has been lost to time.  Most music scholars believe it originated as a children’s memory and forfeit game.

The standard tune sung today is a traditional folk melody published in 1909.  This arrangement was written by Frederic Austin, an English composer.  Before this time various tunes were associated with the song.  Austin also added “On” to the beginning of each verse.

Did you notice how many days are associated with a bird?
Did you notice how many days are associated with a bird?

The song is a cumulative song, meaning each verse is built upon the previous verses.  There are twelve verses for the twelve days of Christmas.

Austin also produced many changes in wording from the old English to the more common version now sung in North America.

Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, have attached their own meaning to the song through the years.  Whether this was the original intent of the writer or if the song was used to pass hidden message during times of Revolution and War we may never know.  However, the rumors and assumptions will linger on.

Numerous performers have recorded the song over the years including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Muppets, Natalie Cole, and many others.   Parodies of the song have also become popular.

According to Parade magazine, in 2015 the Christmas Price Index estimated the total cost for the gifts would be $34, 131.