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Twelve Days of Christmas
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Twelve Days of Christmas

Twelve Days of Christmas is a traditional Christmas song, or Christmas Carol. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days from December 25 to January 5, or the Twelfth Night. The date of the song's first performance is not known, though it was used in European and Scandinavian traditions as early as the 16th century.

Structure

Twelve Days of Christmas is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of all the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by "my true love" on one of the Twelve days of Christmas.

The first verse runs:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

The second verse:

''On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
''Two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.

and so on. The last verse is:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve 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.

Meaning

Some believe that the song was created as a secret code among Christians in hiding, possibly dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with each 'gift' having a meaning. One version of the meanings is:

Variations

Sometimes "gave to me" is used instead of "sent to me"; also "five golden rings" is sometimes "five gold rings."

The line four calling birds is an Americanization of the traditional English wording four colly birds. Colly is a dialect word meaning black and refers to the European blackbird Turdus merula.

As well, the last four verses are sometimes interchanged, so that one version of the song may have nine pipers, ten drummers, eleven ladies, ten lords, or any other combination.

Many parodies of the Twelve Days of Christmas have been written. The version performed by the Canadian comedy team Bob & Doug McKenzie; replaces the first gift with "a beer, in a tree" (metered to match the traditional "a partridge in a pear tree"), substituting the other gifts on the list with other stereotypically Canadian items such as French toast, back bacon, and toques. Allan Sherman and Bob Rivers have written similar parodies.

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