We all know how the song starts, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”.
Where would Christmas be without its tradition and memorable music?
Writing “Merry Christmas” over and over again in all your Christmas greeting cards can be a little monotonous. Using the “12 Days of Christmas” song as inspiration, here are some unique and creative ways to spice up your sentiments of “Merry Christmas”.
And, we’ve thrown in some little-know facts and history you may not know about the original inspiration behind the “12 Days of Christmas” song.
A partridge in a pear tree
Funny that a song so wrapped up in Western Christmas celebration would include a verse about a bird that is not even native to the United States.
Partridges actually do not build their nests in trees and they avoid lofty flights and high places. So, the song seems to contradict nature, singing of this bird — of the pheasant family — sitting up in a tree.
May your Christmas be grounded in happiness, surrounded by the ones you love, and nestled full of holiday cheer.
2 turtle doves
As legend has it, Jesus’s parents offered two turtle doves as a sacrifice at the dedication of the baby Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.
Turtle doves are one of the few species of animals that mate for life. Thus, the song sings of twoturtle doves. Once they meet and form their close bond, it is never broken.
May you find yourself immersed in unbreakable love this Christmas season.
3 French hens
The French hen is a breed of chicken originally developed in Faverolles, France. This is where its more formal name, the Faverolles chicken, is derived.
Originally bred as a utility fowl for eggs and meat, the French hen, with its diverse varieties of plumage, is now predominantly seen as an exhibition bird. French hens are rather gentle birds and are often times kept as pets.
May this Christmas bring you fanciful joy in all its varieties, styles, and assortments.
4 Calling birds
Originally, the song was written as four “colly” birds, which translates literally as “black as coal”. The lyrics were rewritten in 1909 as four “calling” birds.
As the Christmas tradition goes, no one wants to receive coal for Christmas. Coal is what you get when you have been bad. Four “calling” birds, or song birds, seems much more fitting.
May your Christmas be full of the sounds of family, friends, and boisterous merriment.
5 Gold rings
The five gold rings were not originally rings, not in the traditional sense anyway.
In Greek mythology, Jason and the Argonauts went in search of the “Golden Fleece”. Instead, they came back with golden birds. It is believed that a sub-species of these ring-necked, golden pheasants became associated with the high-point of royal feasts.
Thus, the traditional five golden rings were seen as a symbol of royalty, wealth, and a full belly on Christmas Day. In more modern times, gold jewelry is also seen as having similar symbols of wealth.
May you be rich in love, full of joy, and treated as royalty this Christmas season.
6 Geese a laying
Well, the goose is actually a goose in this one.
As one of the oldest domesticated birds, geese have long been seen as a a symbol of fertility, thus the laying, and protection. By the 18th century, the goose had become the customary Christmas dinner. Charles Dickens immortalizes the Christmas goose in his short novel, “A Christmas Carol”.
May God bless you, protect you, and make you plans fruitful this Christmas season.
7 Swans a swimming
In ancient times, swans were watched in fascination because of their ability to both fly and swim.
History tells us of the “Feast of Swans” which followed the knighting of King Edward II and 266 other men. King Edward and the other new knights vowed an oath over two prepared swans that were presented during the banquet celebration following the knighting ceremony.
Since that time, swans have been associated with royalty. To this day, Britain still considers the swan a symbol of royalty.
May your courts be full of feasting and celebration this Christmas season.
8 Maids a milking
One rumor has it, that in medieval times, when a woman was asked to “go a milking”, one of two things was being proposed. Either marriage or a rather risque invitation for intimacy.
Assuming that this song is between two lovers, it leaves the singer wondering which proposition was actually being extended!
May Christmas reveal the truest intentions of the one you love.
9 Ladies dancing
Traditional circle dances with accompanying music were known by the French word “carole”.
Over time, as dances changed, the terms used to identify them also changed. The term “carole” began to be associated with stories accompanied by music and singing. This is thought to be the origin of the term “Christmas carols”.
Ladies dancing in a carole were seen as symbols of celebration, wealth, and the courting ritual often seen in nobility.
May the meaning of Christmas resonate in your heart and may you dance with joy.
10 Lords a leaping
Leaping dances were strictly for men.
They were a symbol of fertility and physical preparedness for war. These dances were traditionally ceremonial, with dancers in formal attire, battle gear (thus the swords), or costumes.
May you be healthy and prosperous this Christmas season.
11 Pipers piping
Shepherds often played their pipes while tending to their sheep.
It is believed that on the night Jesus was born, shepherds were likely playing their pipes.
When most people think of “pipes”, we think of bagpipes (probably not what the shepherds were playing). Now predominantly associated with Scotland, bagpipes were once a more common musical instrument. In fact, all medieval celebrations had them.
So, if we were to invite our true love to a dance in medieval times, we’d likely be dancing to bagpipe music. And, what better way to win the heart of your love than with a bagpipe duel.
May your Christmas be filled with music that produces resounding joy.
12 Drummers drumming
Although commonly associated with war, drums also found their way into medieval banquets. Drums were used, along with trumpets, to announce the arrival of each course during the meal.
It’s fitting, that the most commonly sung order in the “Twelve Days of Christmas”, ends with drummers drumming. Thus, signaling the final round of the song.
May the end of your Christmas celebration find you richer, happier, and more hopeful for the coming new year.
Now, over to you.
Go grab your Christmas cards. Use the samples from above, as-is, or create your own unique “Merry Christmas” saying in your next round of note writing.
Flickr creative commons image by Chris Brown