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Let's discuss the symbolism of the 12 days of Christmas holidays and how it all started. We will also throw light on the 18th century rituals of the Twelfth Night and the significance of Twelfth Night cake.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of us have heard the famous Christmas carol on the twelve days of Christmas. You may read its lyrics in our 'Christmas Carols' section. Though, the social significance of this tradition is now lost, it has been celebrated since the medieval times. Originally, it started on the Christmas Eve and continued till the eve of Epiphany on 5th of January. The Yule log was kept alight for these 12 days and if it went out before time, it was considered an ill omen. Perhaps its origin lie in the 18th century tradition of the Twelfth Night, which was celebrated as a festive occasion with revelry and people used to disguise themselves with masks and costumes. Another interesting tradition related to this Twelfth Night celebration was that of 'role reversal' in which men dressed as women and women as men.

Then they would eat a Twelfth Night cake and the person who found a bean or pea in their portion was chosen as the King and Queen for the day. The lucky person would then have the pleasure of being waited on by his/her master. Later, this evolved as the game known as 'charades', where the people would chose cards and would act as the characters noted on their cards for the whole of Twelfth Night. Today, the tradition of the Twelfth Night has slowly faded into history and it only the day to remove all Christmas decorations and the Christmas Tree from home. The religious significance of the twelve days of Christmas lies in the story of the Three Wise Men who arrived from the East with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to attend the infant Jesus. It is said that it took them twelve days to reach Him.

The Twelve Days of ChristmasIn the carol, two turtledoves represent the new and old testaments of the Holy Bible while three French hens represent the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Four calling birds are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Five golden rings represent the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the old testament of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Six geese-a-laying represent the Biblical story of the six days of creation. Seven swans-a-swimming symbolize the seven sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Eight maids-a-milking represent the eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit while the Ten Lords-a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. Eleven pipers are the eleven faithful apostles of Jesus Christ and finally, the Twelve drummers are the twelve points of principle of the Apostle's Creed.