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The twelve days of Christmas

In the beginning, there’s the celebrated date of the birth of Jesus.

After various calendar changes (don’t take my word for it, but you can start your own look-see here), a big meeting sometime in 300 AD when a big group of men decided which bits should and shouldn’t end up in the actual Bible, etc., etc. (no, not kidding, type ‘Council of Nicaea’ into your search bar…), that birth is now celebrated by those who want to on 25th December every year. Sources disagree on the actual day and even the year of Christ’s birth (nope, still not kidding…), but, like the Queen of England, he has an official birthday, and that day is the 25th December.

Twelve days later (you see where this is going?) there’s the 6th of January, variously known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings’ Day, or Epiphany (list is not exhaustive).

Basically, Mary got pregnant with Jesus, for the sake of argument without any help from the opposite sex whatsoever, gave birth, and twelve days late for that birth, three guys showed up with presents. Really practical things, like frankincense and myrrh. Probably explains a lot about how they managed to be twelve days late for the actual event – that, or it’s one of the earliest documented occurrences of men refusing to ask for directions.

So the twelve days of Christmas, traditionally, actually run from 25th (or 26th) December to the 5th or 6th January. Also traditionally (North Americans, cover your eyes and close the browser here), Christmas decorations go up on Christmas Eve (24th December) and come down again 5th or 6th January.

There are also countries where the gifts are not given on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but happen on Three Kings’ Day – because that’s when the three (probably not lost, honest), (allegedly wise) men showed up and handed over their gifts.

Personally, I’m enjoying the jokes that fly around this time of the year about three wise men being the original oxymoron… but I digress.

So that’s the short story behind the Twelve Days of Christmas. There’s also a rather nice carol called the Twelve Days of Christmas (I still have no idea what partridges have to do with it, but eh). Lyrics below.

On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the third day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the tenth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Ten Lords a Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Eleven Pipers Piping
Ten Lords a Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
12 Drummers Drumming
Eleven Pipers Piping
Ten Lords a Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

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