12 Days of Christmas

Genuine love gives the singer a laundry list of gifts in The 12 Days of Christmas, the longest and least-loved classic Christmas hymn. (Almost all gifts are animals or people, which seems suspicious!)

What’s the song’s backstory? Why so many birds? Find all the 12 Days of Christmas answers you’ve been looking for.

What are the 12 Days of Christmas gifts?

The calling birds used to be canary birds or Colley birds, signifying blackbirds, however the current list of presents is:

  • Day 1: A pear tree partridge
  • Days 2: Two turtle doves
  • Day 3: Three French hens
  • Day 4: Four calling birds
  • Day 5: 5 gold rings
  • Day 6: Six geese lay eggs and  
  • Day 7: Seven swans swim.
  • Day 8: Eight maids milking
  • Day 9: Nine females dancing
  • Days 10: 10 Lords leaping, 11 Pipers piping, 12 Drummers drumming.

The Origins of the 12 Days of Christmas Carol?

Between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6), the 12 days of Christmas were traditionally a time of rest, feasting, family gatherings, and merrymaking.

The song was initially written down in Mirth Without Mischief in 1780 and was likely a game for kids: sing until you made a mistake, then pay with a sweet or other token when your memory failed. Due to the song’s use of partridges, which were native to France and didn’t arrive in England until the 18th century, many historians believe it originated in France.

Where are the “12 Days of Christmas” Lyrics From?

Some historians assume the song is French, however, it originally appeared in the English children’s book Mirth Without Mischief. It was published in 1780, so you may not have heard of it. You might borrow a first edition from the $23,750 Sotheby’s auction buyer. But you may not recognize the lyrics.

In the original lyrics, “four calling birds” were “four colly birds.” Blackbirds were called “colly” in old English. Some earlier versions of the song replace the beloved partridge with a “very pretty peacock upon a pear tree.” The lyrics we know today were written by British musician Frederic Austin in 1909.

12 Days of Christmas: A Brief History

The origins of the “12 Days of Christmas” are unknown. Many ideas exist concerning the lyrics’ origin, but no one knows for sure. The 12 days may signify the time it takes for Christmas to fall on the same day each year and for Jesus to be born. Another hypothesis is that the 12 presents represent Jesus and his apostles. Another belief is that the 12 days represent the 12 months.

11 Days Before Christmas

The “12 Days of Christmas” begins 11 days before Christmas. The Christmas countdown began in the Middle Ages as the “11 Days of Christmas.” Some believe the phrase comes from the fact that December 25, Jesus’s birthday, was also the Feast of the Nativity, a medieval church feast. The “11 Days of Christmas” may have originated because December, when Christmas falls, includes 11 complete weeks. The 12th month has only 31 days. The first day of the month was used to count months.

12 Drummers, 11 Pipers

According to legend, “11 Pipers Piping” refers to the twelve apostles, excluding Judas. According to legend, the “12 Drummers Drumming” represents the Apostles’ Creed’s twelve points.

10 Lords Leaping, 9 Ladies Dancing

The “10 Lords A-Leaping” tradition is ancient. Medieval feudal lords competed to leap higher and dance longer. The lords wanted to exhibit their power and virility, which were desirable qualities in husbands since women couldn’t inherit lands or titles. Lords also competed in drinking, eating, shooting, and hunting throughout the 12 days of Christmas. The jumping lords imply fertility and a healthy, wealthy heir in the future year.

4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens

The “4 Calling Birds” symbolize spring, summer, fall, and winter. They symbolize the world’s four corners—north, east, south, and west. The “3 French Hens” symbolize human youth, middle age, and old age. They symbolize sand, clay, and loam soil. The “3 French Hens” symbolize the soul’s intellect, volition, and emotions. The “3 French Hens” symbolize the soul’s three tasks: understanding, choosing, and loving.

Pair Turtle Doves

“2 Turtle Doves” symbolize man-woman love and family affection. The “2 Turtle Doves” symbolize the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The “2 Turtle Doves” symbolize Western and Eastern ideas. The “2 Turtle Doves” symbolize agape (unconditional love) and philia (friendship). The “2 Turtle Doves” symbolize the Trees of Life and Knowledge in Eden. The “2 Turtle Doves” symbolize the Law’s two tables: “Do not steal” and “Do not covet.”

Also Read: Funny Christmas Gift to Make Your Most Adorable Stranger Laugh

FAQs about 12 Days of Christmas Gifts

Are the Song’s Gifts Literal?

Some believe the song’s presents symbolize tradition, faith, and love. The lines may be taken literally, while others recognize the hidden meanings underlying each gift.

Is the Gift Order Specific?

Yes, the song’s presents are ordered from the partridge on a pear tree to the next gift.

Gift Interpretations: Can They Change?

Absolutely. Culture, history, and personal interpretations of gifts differ. Different people interpret each item differently.

Why Are There 12 Christmas Days?

Between Christmas Day and the Epiphany on January 6, the 12 Days of Christmas are celebrated. This period represents the Magi’s visit to Jesus.

Do Gifts Vary by Region?

Some nations alter the song to their traditions and customs, thus presents vary. This makes the celebration delightfully diverse.

Daily gift exchange?

The song recommends gifts for each day, although current festivities vary. Some exchange gifts regularly, while others have various holiday gifting traditions.


The 12 Days of Christmas combine tradition, symbolism, and joy. From the first day’s partridge to the twelfth day’s drummers, each gift enhances the holiday. Celebrate this magical season by sharing love and giving.

By Gleyn Smith

Gleyn is professional News writer with more than 10 years of experience. He is a dedicated researcher who always love to bring new, amazing and attractive content.

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