The Reason behind the Twelve Days of Christmas
It's just a nice way to strengthen one's Christian faith during the Christmas season. There are reports that it was a way for Catholics to bolster their faith during the time of persecution in England from 1558 until 1829, but there's nothing uniquely Catholic about the meanings of the gifts, so that little history doesn't make sense.
There's just one more thing to say about the Christmas season, and that has to do with Groundhog Day.
February 2, Groundhog Day — Before this day became popular in America, there was another holiday, a minor Christian one celebrated on that day. We begin with December 24, the eve on which Jesus is born, and add forty days to it - December 64. Take away 31 for December and 31 for January, and we get 2, in February, so February 2. This day commemorated the day in which Jesus was brought to the Temple and Mary purified, as dictated in Leviticus 12:1-4 (7 days mensis + 33 days including mensis), 6-8 (the two turtledoves came from there). It used to be called Candlemas, for the candles used in a procession (and that seems to be based on a pagan procession that used candles), but now it's called the Presentation of the Lord (candles optional).
The King of Christmas:
For several years now I've felt that the holiday season began at Halloween and ended on the Day of Epiphany. The Book of Christmas has borne this out, only it has the holiday season going from Halloween to Candlemas (October 31 to February 2). And this time period was ruled by the King of Christmas, who was known as the King of the Bean or the Lord of Misrule in England, the Abbot of Unreason in Scotland, and l'Abbé de la Malgouvernée.(Abbot of Mismanagment) in France. He was the master of the Christmas revels, the author of Christmas pleasures. Sometimes, though, he only reigned during the Twelve Days of Christmas, and those days were a topsy-turvy time in days of old: Men would dress as women and women as men, servants would be masters and masters would be servants, and people would even dress as animals. Now the types of pleasures the King used to hold can be seen during Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnaval in Brazil.
Some notes on Santa: the Santa Claus we know today is based on the Germanic god Thor, who was associated with winter and the Yule log and rode on a chariot drawn by goats named Cracker and Gnasher (compare these goats with the eight reindeer Santa was seen with in "Twas The Night Before Christmas").
Here's a list of entities who used to deliver gifts (from the Book of Christmas, part of Time-Life's Enchanted World book series), and the days they delivered them on. All of them figure into the present Christmas celebrations.
December 6 -
St. Nicholas, based on Bishop Nicholas of Myra. His generosity lives on in Santa Claus (Holland and Germany - he rode on a horse and delivered shoe stuffers in exchange for hay and carrots for his horse. He had an assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, who doled out punishment with a switch. This version of St. Nick was based on Odin as well as Thor), and other figures included Father Christmas (Britain - replacing St. Nick), and the Christmas Man (other Protestant countries). St. Nick delivered gifts on this day in anticipation of Christmas, but the Catholic idea of saints and their feast days was quashed by the Protestants, and so the day of gift-giving was moved from the 6th to the 25th. And so did a newly-secular Santa.
December 24, Christmas Eve -
the Julnissen and Jultomten (Norway and Sweden - household elves who hid presents)
Christkindl (Germany - an angel who rode on a tiny deer and passed out sweets and toys). Kris Kringle is a corruption of Christkindl.
Kolyáda (Russia - a white-robed elf-maiden who rode a sleigh from house to house and passed out treats to carolers)
January 5, Epiphany Eve -
Befana (Italy, from Epifana - an old woman who rode on a broom and gave either presents or coal)
January 6 — Epiphany of Jesus. The Wise Men finally showed up to pay homage to Jesus, whose star they saw in the East. They brought three presents: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Gold - the gift worthy of a King of Kings
Frankincense - the gift worthy of a High Priest
Myrrh - the gift worthy of the Suffering Servant
And who is my True Love? God the Father, for He does not fail me. I trust in Him, and He comes through as no human can. And as any father and child, we have our disagreements, but when I need Him, He's there.
It turns out that this day was the original day of Christmas, and is still Christmas in the Orthodox Churches. It was moved to December 25 in the Catholic Church to fight off the influence of Dies Natalis Solis Invictus - the Invincible Sun's birthday became the Invincible Son's birthday.
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to meTwelve Drummers Drumming
The Twelve Points of belief in the Apostle's Creed - I believe
1. in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth
2. in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
3. that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
4. that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried
5. that He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead
6. that He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
7. that He shall return to judge the living and the dead
8. in the Holy Spirit
9. in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints
10. in the forgiveness of sins
11. in the resurrection of the body
12. in life everlasting
All of these points can be found in the Bible, though some people don't believe Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. And Catholic means universal, which the Roman Catholic church is - it's everywhere. All churches, even the newest ones with their own interpretations, even the oldest ones that never were quite in communion with Rome, are still connected to the Catholic Church by way of faith in Jesus and His Word, the Scriptures. All the Reformers did was rewrite the Bible using the oldest sources they could find (which simply amounted to reinventing the wheel) and drop some of the books the Catholic Church still holds as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic Church takes its name seriously - it's truly universal. It is present in heaven, on earth, and in a place where those who die in Christ wait for Jesus to return and gather them up (the Church calls this purgatory). It is unbroken, unhindered by death. A believer's prayer can be heard in all three places, and those three places are summed up in the communion of saints, the Catholic Church. Other churches believe in a catholic church, too, but doctrinal differences prevent them from communing with each other or with the Catholic Church.
January 5 —Eleven Pipers Piping
The Eleven faithful disciples
Rather than name the faithful ones, it's the unfaithful one who deserves mention: Judas Iscariot. He betrayed Jesus because he himself felt betrayed. You see, the Jews expected, and still expect, the Messiah to usher in the Kingdom of God, a real kingdom here on earth, and Judas, being a Zealot, wanted to be at the front lines when the time came to create that Kingdom. But Jesus didn't come to create that kingdom yet, so Judas got frustrated and disappointed with Jesus - if Jesus wasn't gonna start the Kingdom, then Jesus was an impostor, and so a traitor to the cause. Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die, after all, not start a Kingdom.
On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
January 4 —Ten Lords a-Leaping
The Ten Commandments - I am the Lord your God. You shall:
1. not have other gods before Me
2. not have idols of anything under heaven
3. not take the Lord's name in vain
4. honor your parents
5. honor and rest on the sabbath
6. not murder
7. not commit adultery
8. not steal
9. not bear false witness against your neighbor
10. not covet your neighbor's spouse or belonigngs
On the Tenth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
Idols are basically sculptures. They were often made to represent the spirit of the item being sculpted, and those spirits were usually worshiped, which is why God didn't want any idols around Him. But sculpture did make it into Solomon's temple, and Jesus didn't seem to have any problem with sculpture, though being a faithful Jew, he didn't worship it. He knew that sculptures have no life in and of themselves. Catholics, in this regard, follow Jesus' example, knowing that statues of saints don't represent deities or spirits to be worshiped, nor have life in and of themselves, but do represent fellow Christians one can call upon for aid. Death is no barrier here. Other Christians do see death as a barrier, and so don't call upon the saints for aid, figuring that demons would answer instead of the saints.
The Catholic position thus makes the first two commandments one and the last commandment two. It also present three couplets
murder - bear false witness (both invlove hatred)
commit adultery - covet your neighbor's spouse (both involve lust and jealousy)
steal - covet your neighbor's belongings (both involve greed and envy)
January 3 —Nine Ladies Dancing
The Nine Choirs of Angels: Seraphim Cherubim Thrones Dominations Virtues Powers Principalities Archangels Angels.
On the Ninth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
I'd have mentioned the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit, but there are actually 12 of those.
January 2 —Eight Maids a-Milking
The Eight Beatitudes. Blessed are they who are:
1. spiritually poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
2. mourning, for God will comfort them
3. meek, for they will inherit the land
4. yearn for righteousness, for they will be sated
5. merciful, for they shall see mercy
6. pure of heart, for they shall see God
7. peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God
8. persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
On the Eighth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
January 1, New Year's Day, Kwanzaa: Imani (Faith) —Seven Swans a-Swimming
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.
On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
December 31, New Year's Eve, Kwanzaa: Kuumba (Creativity) —Six Geese a-Laying
The Six Days of Creation.
Day 1: light, night, day
On the Sixth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
Day 2: sky, cloud cover (some say a water canopy that gave uniform temperatures around the globe)
Day 3: sea, earth, plants (odd that the plants should be made before the sun appears)
Day 4: sun, moon, stars
Day 5: sea animals, birds
Day 6: land animals, man
Some say that God created Adam and Eve on the eighth day, as their children had to marry other humans to propogate the species. And that the water canopy crashed down on the earth during Noah's Flood.
December 30, Kwanzaa: Nia (Purpose) —Five Golden Rings
The Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, describing man's fall from Grace (Genesis) and the arrival of the Law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
December 29, Kwanzaa: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) —Four Calling Birds
The Four Callers, the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Or their Gospels.
On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
December 28, Kwanzaa: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) —Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love (and the greatest of these is Love - and the French know all about love, no?). But the kind of love we're talking here is charity, or selfless love.
On the Third Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
December 27, Kwanzaa: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) —Two Turtledoves
The Two Testaments, Old and New - There's no authentic conflict between the two, though there may be disagreement.
On the Second Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
December 26, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity) —a Partridege in a Pear Tree
Jesus is the Partridge - this first day is His day, after all. And the Pear Tree is the Tree of Life.
On the First Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me
The Twelve Days of Christmas. Starting on Boxing Day, I'll present the gift for each day, and the meaning behind the gift. The "thirteenth" day of Christmas is the Day of Epiphany, January 6, observed as the day the Wise Men arrived at Jesus' manger and presented their gifts. The Christmas season ends on that day.