16 May

On the first day

The twelve days of Christmas are the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany and are the official Christmas season, so the eponymous twelve days of Christmas song is about the singer’s true love sending them a new present on every day of that Christmas season which, at this point, makes a plausible story.

The song was probably sung as a memory game (with each person in the circle adding a new present to the list for everyone to remember) but it eventually solidified as:

  • 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 calling birds
  • 3 French hens
  • 2 turtle doves
  • and a partridge in a pear tree

By this stage, the gift list doesn’t make sense[1] but that’s not the point.

In Australia, I think we’d do better having the twelve days before Christmas (or perhaps to Boxing Day) since we’re usually flat-out festively from about the 14th of December and generally don’t consider New Year’s Day to be part of Christmas.[2]

16 may 2016.jpg
Traditionally two turtle doves rather than two dove turtles, even though the song could do with fewer birds and more reptiles.

[1] Why would you want ten lords a-leaping, how would you get them and what happens when they stop jumping?

[2] My father always said that the New Year was a time to make a New Start in the pantry, by which he meant that we shouldn’t be eating Christmas leftovers any more (but he never objected to my mother’s brandy shortbread trifle, no matter how late in January it appeared).

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