Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas

One thing I find fascinating about the Christmas season is how soon people start packing up the Christmas decorations. Christmas Day ends, and boom! People start thinking about taking the decorations down. They don't realize that traditionally, December 25 is the BEGINNING of the Christmas season! Traditions differ on whether the legendary 12 Days of Christmas are December 25-January 5 or December 26-January 6. Either way, Christmas is not over at the stroke of midnight on Boxing Day. December 25 is, obviously, Christmas. December 26 is St. Stephen's Day. January 6 is Epiphany or Three Kings' Day.

As for the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, there are a few stories about its background. The one that comes to mind is from an e-mail that has been circulating. Snopes considers it to be bunk, and while I have learned to take Snopes with a grain of salt sometimes, I think they have a point here. More about that later.

According to the e-mail, the song was written during a time when the Catholics were severely persecuted. They wrote this song to remember the tenets of their faith in a way that the persecutors would not recognize. The gifts symbolized the following (I added the dates...they aren't mentioned in the e-mail. I included both possible dates, depending on which tradition):

A partridge in a pear tree (Dec 25 or 26): Jesus on the cross (also symbolizing His sadness over Jerusalem)
Two turtle doves (Dec 26 or 27): The Old and New Testaments
Three French hens (Dec 27 or 28): Faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Four calling birds (Dec 28 or 29): The 4 Gospels/Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
Five golden rings (Dec 29 or 30): The Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Six geese a-laying (Dec 30 or 31): The 6 days of creation
Seven swans a-swimming (Dec 31 or Jan 1): The 7 gifts of the Spirit and the 7 Sacraments
Eight maids a-milking (Jan 1 or 2): The 8 Beatitudes
Nine ladies dancing (Jan 2 or 3): The 9 Fruits of the Spirit
Ten lords a-leaping (Jan 3 or 4): The Ten Commandments
Eleven pipers piping (Jan 4 or 5): The 11 faithful disciples (in other words, minus Judas, who betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide)
Twelve drummers drumming (Jan 5 or 6): The 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed

Snopes points out that there's no ancient documentation to support this, and the earliest data they can find to support it dates way back to the 1990s AD. One point that comes to mind for me is the Catholics' main enemies in the Middle Ages were Protestants...and most of the doctrines mentioned above are areas of agreement between Catholics and Protestants. Laws did go back and forth giving the death penalty alternately to Catholics and Protestants (depending on the persuasion of the King), but areas where the two faiths agree probably wouldn't have needed to be put in code. (Snopes also points this out.)

That said, I'm not convinced it's completely bunk. It may have involved some or all of that symbolism, but I think the info in the e-mail is generally a recent invention.

Now, for my facetious thoughts.

The singer has a very rich true love. Think of it: On day one, he or she gives a partridge in a pear tree. On day two, the gifts include two turtle doves and another partridge in another pear tree. The list goes on. According to my calculations, that comes to a total of 12 partridges in 12 pear trees, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds, 40 golden rings, 42 geese a-laying, 42 swans a-swimming, 40 maids a-milking, 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming, for a grand total of 364 gifts. The receiver would need a lot of space for a sudden onslaught of an arboretum of pear trees, a menagerie of 184 birds, and 140 people (who would all need someplace to sleep and live). Oh, and not to mention enough fingers to wear 40 rings. Maybe the singer could wear a different ring depending on what else they're wearing? Of course, that doesn't take into account that the geese are actively laying, so there will soon be many more geese. That also doesn't account for the fact that in order to be able to lay, all the geese would need to be female. There would need to be at least one gander in addition to the 42 geese. The swans would need someplace to swim. We would presumably need something for the maids to milk, since one doesn't typically milk birds. I would guess the ladies and lords have to dance and leap to get around and over everything else. The drummers and pipers would need a way to care for their instruments. That's also assuming that a partridge and a pear tree are a single gift.

So many animals in one place would probably raise concerns with organizations such as PETA and ASPCA, and if they allowed the singer to keep all the gifts, said singer would probably need to get a business license, declare it to be a zoo or farm, and make sure all the birds are treated humanely. I'm not sure what kind of legal issues that would raise in addition to that, but I'm sure there would be lots.

Then there's the issue of owning 140 people. The 13th Amendment to our Constitution specifically states:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Thus, all the people being given need to have consented of their own free will (unless, of course, they're serving time for a crime), and they would need to be treated with respect. They would either need to be under the clear understanding that this dancing, milking and music-making is volunteer labor, or they would need to be paid. Some politicians would probably insist that they unionize, which could lead to a lot of headaches and the threat of strikes if the singer doesn't treat them well or pay them as much as they feel they should be paid. Then there's the sticky issue of background checks. They would probably also need a lawyer or ten.

Oh yeah, and the singer would probably need to hire labor to take care of those 12 pear trees, clean up after the animals, feed the animals, etc.

Conclusion: I hope my true love, when I find her, understands that I don't expect her to give me all that, and I really don't want the headaches that would come with it.

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