The Twelve Days of Christmas (song)
|"The Twelve Days of Christmas"
|Music by||Traditional with additions by Frederic Austin|
|Language||English; may be French in origin|
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English Christmas carol that enumerates a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. The song, first published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 68. The tunes of collected version vary. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of the traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse "five gold rings".
The twelve days in the song are the twelve days starting Christmas Day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (December 26) (Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day, as being the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr) to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, or the Twelfth Day). Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking."
The best known English version was first printed in English in 1780 in a little book intended for children, Mirth without Mischief, as a Twelfth Night "memories-and-forfeits" game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet. One hundred years later, Lady Gomme, a collector of folktales and rhymes, described how it used to be played every Twelfth Day night before eating mince pies and twelfth cake.
"Twelve days of Christmas" was adapted from similar New Years' or spring French carols, of which at least three are known, all featuring a partridge, perdriz or perdriole, as the first gift. The pear tree appears only in the English version, but this could also indicate a French origin. According to Iona and Peter Opie, the red-legged (or French) partridge perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge and was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770.Cecil Sharp observed that "from the constancy in English, French, and Languedoc versions of the 'merry little partridge,' I suspect that 'pear-tree' is really perdrix (Old French pertriz) carried into England"; and "juniper tree" in some English versions may have been "joli perdrix," [pretty partridge]. Sharp also suggests the adjective "French" in "three French hens", probably simply means "foreign".
In the northern counties of England, the song was often called the "Ten Days of Christmas", the gifts numbering but ten. It was also known in Somerset, Dorsetshire, and elsewhere in England. The kinds of gifts vary in a number of the versions, some of them becoming alliterative tongue-twisters. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was also widely popular in the United States and Canada. It is mentioned in the section on "Chain Songs" in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Indiana University Studies, Vol. 5, I935), p. 416.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by "my true love" on one of the twelve days of Christmas.
...and so forth, until the last verse:
- On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..
- 12 Drummers Drumming
- 11 Pipers Piping
- 10 Lords-a-Leaping
- 9 Ladies Dancing
- 8 Maids-a-Milking
- 7 Swans-a-Swimming
- 6 Geese-a-Laying
- 5 Gold Rings
- 4 Colly Birds
- 3 French Hens
- 2 Turtle Doves
- And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
This version features variant lyrics, as explained below.
The time signature of this song is not constant, unlike most popular music. This irregular meter perhaps speaks for the song's folk origin. The introductory lines, such as "On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me", are made up of two 4/4 bars, while most of the lines naming gifts receive one 3/4 bar per gift with the exception of "Five gold(en) rings," which receives two 4/4 bars, "Two turtle doves" getting a 4/4 bar with "And a" on its 4th beat and "Partridge in a pear tree" getting two 4/4 bars of music. In most versions, a 4/4 bar of music immediately follows "Partridge in a pear tree." "On the" is found in that bar on the 4th (pickup) beat for the next verse. The successive bars of 3 for the gifts surrounded by bars of 4 give the song its hallmark "hurried" quality.
The second to fourth verses' melody is different from that of the fifth to twelfth verses. Before the fifth verse (when "five gold(en) rings" is first sung), the melody, using solfege, is "sol re mi fa re" for the fourth to second items, and this same melody is thereafter sung for the twelfth to sixth items. However, the melody for "four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves" changes from this point, differing from the way these lines were sung in the opening four verses.
There are many variations of this song in which the last four objects are arranged in a different order (for example—twelve lords a-leaping, eleven ladies (or dames a-) dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming). At least one version has "ten fiddlers fiddling," and another has "nine ladies waiting." Still another version alters the fourth gift to "four mockingbirds."
The text of the earliest printed version in English (as reproduced in the Iona and Peter Opies' The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes), is as follows:
The twelfth day of Christmas, | My true love sent to me | Twelve lords a-leaping, | Eleven pipers piping, | Ten ladies dancing, | Nine drummers drumming, | Eight maids a-milking, | Seven swans a-swimming, | Six geese a-laying, | Five gold rings, | Four colly birds, | Three French hens, | Two turtle doves, and | A partridge in a pear tree.
There are some regional variants of the verb in the opening line of each verse. In the United States the true love sometimes "gave" the gifts to the singer. In the British version, the true love "sent" the gifts to the singer, but "said" is also found (for example as sung by Kate Rusby).
In American versions of the song, the fourth day's gift is often four "calling" birds instead of "colly" birds, a British term for the European blackbird.William S. and Ceil Baring-Gould suggest that the “the presents sent of the first seven days were all birds—-the “Five gold rings” were not actually gold rings, but refer to the five golden rings of the ringed pheasant." Others suggest the gold rings refer to "five goldspinks"—a goldspink being an old name for a Goldfinch;  or even canaries.
A minor variant includes the singing of "golden" rather than "gold" rings, to avoid having to stretch "gold" into two syllables ("go-old").
|Halliwell, 1842||My mother sent to me||Partridge in a pear-tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Canary birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping||Ships a sailing||Ladies spinning||Bells ringing|
|Halliwell, 1853||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Maids a milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping|
|Salmon, 1855||My true-love sent to me||Partridge upon a pear-tree||Turtle-doves||French hens||Collie birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leaping|
|Cliftonian, 1867||My true-love sent to me||Partridge in a pear-tree||Turtle-doves||French hens||Colley birds||Gold rings||Ducks a-laying||Swans swimming||Hares a-running||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leaping||Badgers baiting||Bells a-ringing|
|Clark, 1875||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colour'd birds||Gold rings||Geese laying||Swans swimming||Maids milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords leaping|
|Henderson, 1879||My true love sent to me||Partridge upon a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Curley birds||Gold rings||Geese laying||Swans swimming||Maids milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||---||---|
|Stokoe, 1888||My true love sent to me||Partridge on a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping|
|Scott, 1892||My true love brought to me||Very pretty peacock upon a pear tree||Turtle-doves||French hens||Corley birds||GOLD RINGS||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Pipers playing||Drummers drumming||Lads a-louping||Ladies dancing|
|Cole, 1900||My true love sent to me||Parteridge upon a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Squabs a swimming||Hounds a running||Bears a beating||Cocks a crowing||Lords a leaping||Ladies a dancing|
In Australia, the most common version is the traditional English version. However, a number of alternative versions have been created, all of which replace the traditional gifts with native Australian animals.
In Scotland, early in the 19th century, the recitation began: "The king sent his lady on the first Yule day, | A popingo-aye [parrot]; | Wha learns my carol and carries it away?" The succeeding gifts were two partridges, three plovers, a goose that was grey, three starlings, three goldspinks, a bull that was brown, three ducks a-merry laying, three swans a-merry swimming, an Arabian baboon, three hinds a-merry hunting, three maids a-merry dancing, three stalks o' merry corn.
In the Faroe Islands there is a comparable counting Christmas song. The gifts include: one feather, two geese, three sides of meat, four sheep, five cows, six oxen, seven dishes, eight ponies, nine banners, ten barrels, eleven goats, twelve men, thirteen hides, fourteen rounds of cheese and fifteen deer. These were illustrated in 1994 by local cartoonist Óli Petersen (born 1936) on a series of two stamps issued by the Faroese Philatelic Office.
In the nineteenth century, most sources for the lyrics do not include music, and those that do often include music different from what has become the standard melody. Cecil Sharp's Folk Songs from Somerset (1905) contains two different melodies for the song, both distinct from the now-standard melody.
In 1909, English composer Frederic Austin wrote an arrangement, published by Novello & Co., in which he added, to a traditional melody, his own 2-bar motif for "Five gold rings". The melody from Austin's arrangement has since become standard. Austin's was also one of the earliest, and possibly the earliest, to substitute "Four calling birds" for the earlier "Colly birds".
The lyrics may have no meaning at all. Its meaning, if it has any, 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."
In 1979, a Canadian hymnologist, Hugh D. McKellar, published an article, "How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas", claiming that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" lyrics were intended as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England (1558 until 1829). McKellar offered no evidence for his claim and subsequently admitted that the purported associations were his own invention. The idea was further popularized by a Catholic priest, Fr. Hal Stockert, in an article he wrote in 1982 and posted online in 1995. None of the enumerated items would distinguish Catholics from Protestants, and so would hardly need to be secretly encoded.
Christmas Price Index
Since 1984, the cumulative costs of the items mentioned in the song have been used as a tongue-in-cheek economic indicator. This custom began with and is maintained by PNC Bank. Two pricing charts are created, referred to as the Christmas Price Index and The True Cost of Christmas. The former is an index of the current costs of one set of each of the gifts given by the True Love to the singer of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The latter is the cumulative cost of all the gifts with the repetitions listed in the song. The people mentioned in the song are hired, not purchased. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2011 Christmas Price Index is $24,263.18. The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. It has been criticized for not accurately reflecting the true cost of the gifts featured in the Christmas carol.
In popular culture
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (January 2010)|
- Burl Ives recorded a traditional version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in 1951.
- Perry Como recorded a traditional version of "Twelve Days of Christmas" in 1953 but varied the lyrics with "11 Lords a Leaping", "10 Ladies Dancing", and "9 Pipers Piping".
- Allan Sherman recorded—or at least released—two different versions of "The Twelve Gifts of Christmas". Sherman wrote and performed his version of the classic Christmas carol on a 1963 TV special that was taped well in advance of the holiday. Warner Brothers rushed out a 45 RPM version in early December.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for their 1963 album Christmas with The Chipmunks, Vol. 2
- Frank Sinatra and his children, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Nancy Sinatra, and Tina Sinatra, included their own version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" on their 1968 album, The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas.
- The Muppets and singer-songwriter John Denver performed "The Twelve Days of Christmas" on the 1979 television special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. It was featured on the album of the same name. The song has been recorded by the Muppets five different times, featuring different Muppets in different roles each time.
- A Māori / New Zealand version, titled "A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree," written by Kingi Matutaera Ihaka, appeared as a picture book and cassette recording in 1981.
- On the late-night sketch-comedy program Second City TV in 1982, the Canadian-rustic characters Bob & Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) released a version on the SCTV spin-off album Great White North.
- The Twelve Days of Christmas (TV 1993), an animated tale which aired on NBC, features the voices of Marcia Savella, Larry Kenney), Donna Vivino and Phil Hartman.
- A program hosted by Tom Arnold, The 12 Days of Redneck Christmas, which takes a look at Christmas traditions, premiered on CMT in 2008. The theme music is "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
- P. Opie and I. Opie, eds, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951), ISBN 0-19-869111-4, pp. 122–23.
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition.
- "The song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was created as a coded reference". Snopes.com. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
- Cecil J. Sharp, A. G. Gilchrist and Lucy E. Broadwood, “Forfeit Songs; Cumulative Songs; Songs of Marvels and of Magical Animals,” Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 5, No. 20 (Nov., 1916), pp. 280.
- Another suggestion is that an old English drinking song may have furnished the idea for the first gift. William B. Sandys refers to it as a "convivial glee introduced a few years since, 'A Pie [i.e., a magpie] sat on a Pear Tree,' where one drinks while the others sing," William Sandys, Festive Songs'—-16th and I7th Centuries (Percy Society Publications, Vol.23, 1847), p. 74, The image of the bird in the pear tree also appears in lines from a children's counting rhyme an old Mother Goose.
- A pye sate on a pear tree, Heigh O!
- Once so merrily hopp'd she; Heigh O!
- Twice so merrily, etc.
- Thrice so, etc.
- Yoffee, "Songs of the Twelve Numbers", 1949, p. 400.
- "h2g2 - Three French Hens - A212248". BBC. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- Active Bible Church of God, Chicago (Hyde Park), Illinois: "The Twelve Days of Christmas"; annotations reprinted from 4000 Years of Christmas by Earl W. Count (New York: Henry Schuman, 1948). Accessed 2007-12-21; 2008-12-25Template:DEAD LINK
- W. S. Baring-Gould and C. Baring-Gould, The Annotated Mother Goose (Bramhall House,  1962), ISBN 0-517-02959-6, p. 197.
- Aled Jones, Songs of Praise, BBC, 26 December 2010
- There is a version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that is still sung in Sussex in which the four calling birds are replaced by canaries. See Pape, Gordon, and Deborah Kerbel. Quizmas Carols: Family Trivia Fun with Classic Christmas Songs. New York: A Plume Book, October 2007. ISBN 978-0-452-28875-1
- "Gold keeps the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' cost a-leaping". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2009-12-08.
- Halliwell, James Orchard (1842). The Nursery Rhymes of England. London: Richards. pp. 127–128.
- Halliwell, James Orchard (1853). The Nursery Rhymes of England (Fifth ed.). London: John Russell Smith. pp. 184–188.
- Salmon, Robert S. (1855). Notes and Queries, vol. xii (December 1855). London: George Bell. pp. 506–507.
- "An Antiquarian" (1867). The Cliftonian (December 1867). Clifton, Bristol: J. Baker. pp. 145–146.
- Clark, Georgiana C. (1875?). Jolly Games for Happy HOmes. London: Dean & Son. pp. 238–242.
- Henderson, William (1879). Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders. London: Satchell, Peyton and Co. p. 71.
- Stokoe, John (1888). The monthly chronicle of North=country lore and legend (issue of January 1888). Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Walter Scott. pp. 41–42.
- Minto (ed.), W. (1892). Autobiographical notes on the life of William Bell Scott, vol. i. New York: Harper. pp. 186–187.
- Cole, Pamela McArthur (1900). The Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. xiii, (issue of July-September 1900). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 229–230.
- 12 Days of Christmas Aussie Style, Retrieved on 2008-12-11[unreliable source?]
- Another counting song
- Postverk Føroya - Philatelic Office
- Sharp, Cecil J. (1905). Folk Songs from Somerset. London: Simpkin.
- The New Oxford Book of Carols
- "A Christmas Carol Treasury". The Hymns and Carols Of Christmas. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- "National Library Of Australia". Catalogue.nla.gov.au. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- McKellar, High D. (October 1994). "The Twelve Days of Christmas". The Hymn 45,4. "In any case, really evocative symbols do not allow of [sic] definitive explication, exhausting all possibilities. I can at most report what this song's symbols have suggested to me in the course of four decades, hoping thereby to start you on your own quest."
- Bratcher, Dennis. "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Retrieved 2010-12-13.
- "''Washington Post''". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- "''The". New York Times. 2003-12-25. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- "PNC Christmas Price Index". PNC Financial Services. 2010-11-29. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS - A LESSON IN HOW A COMPLEX APPRAISAL CAN GO ASTRAY". Fulcrum.com. Retrieved 2011-12-14.
- Liner notes from Allan Sherman: My Son, The Box (2005)
- "Allan Sherman Discography". Povonline.com. 1924-11-30. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- "Sinatra Family Twelve Days Of Christmas". Caroling Corner. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979). Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- "A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree". Folksong.org.nz. 2000-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- "A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree". Maori-in-Oz. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- The Mad Music Archive. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
- The Twelve Days of Christmas (1993) (TV)
- CMT.com: Shows: The 12 Days of Redneck Christmas. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
- Gomme, Alice Bertha. "The Twelve Days of Christmas". The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Vol. II. London: Strand, 1898. Pp. 215–32.
- Eckenstein, Lina. Comparative Studies in Nursery Rhymes. Chapter XII, “Chants of Numbers”, (London: Duckworth,1906). Pp. 61–65.
- Sharp, Cecil J. and A. G. Gilchrist, and Lucy E. Broadwood. “Forfeit Songs; Cumulative Songs; Songs of Marvels and of Magical Animals.” Journal of the Folk-Song Society , Vol. 5, No. 20 (Nov., 1916). Pp. 277–296.
- Yoffie, Leah Rachel Clara. "'Songs of the 'Twelve Numbers' and the Hebrew Chant of 'Echod mi Yodea'". The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 62, No. 246 (Oct. - Dec., 1949). “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Pp. 399–401.
- Opie, Peter and Iona, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951. ISBN 0-19-869111-4. Pp. 122–230.
- Media related to The Twelve Days of Christmas (song) at Wikimedia Commons
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- Free scores of The Twelve Days of Christmas in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free online simple melody score for all verses (as jpegs or pdf) in English and Esperanto: "The Twelve Days of Christmas / La Dek Du Tagoj de Kristnasko".