The Twelve Days of Christmas – January 1, 2023

2 Christmas Year A // January 1, 2023 // St. Paul’s Random Lake // John 1:1-14

The 12 Days of Christmas

Let us pray. Gracious God, you are our truest love. Thank you for all of the good gifts you have given us in Christ. AMEN.

Fun fact: today, January 1st, is the 8th day of Christmas! In case you didn’t know the 12 days of Christmas marks the span between the birth of Christ which has been set as the 25th of December and the coming of the Magi or the wise men on Epiphany, January 6th.

Snopes, the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource was not my friend this week. Several years ago, I discovered a delightful children’s book by Helen Haidle which shares the legend that “during the 16th century, the officials of the Church of England forbade all other religious teaching about Christ but theirs. So for the next 200 years, parents who refused to join this church used the song to teach their children in secret.”

Snopes debunks that legend by pointing out the many holes in its logic. “First the song’s gifts have nothing to do with their Christian ‘equivalents’ so the song is basically useless as a way to remember key pillars of the faith. And second, if Christians were so restricted from practicing their faith that they had to conceal messages in a song, they also wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas in the first place—much less sing Christmas carols.”

In spite of that bit of a let-down, I am undeterred. I still think it is fun and useful for us to use the song to reflect upon all of the wonderful gifts our true love—God has given us.

“On the first day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.” A partridge, says author Helen Haidle, “is a small bird that looks like a little brown chicken. This brave bird is willing to give its life to defend its babies from harm” much as Christ was hung upon the tree of the cross to give his life for you!

“On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me two turtle doves.”

In ancient times, Jewish parents, Mary and Joseph included gave an offering of two doves to God when they brought a newborn baby to the temple in Jerusalem. We can also think of them as the gift of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

“On the third day of Christmas my True Love gave to me three French hens.” These expensive birds could represent the extravagant human gifts brought by the Magi to Jesus—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Or even better the three greatest gifts of God according to Saint Paul: faith, hope and love with love being the greatest of all.

“On the fourth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me four calling birds.”

The four calling birds are meant to represent the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. “Each of them had their own story to tell. They were like calling birds because the books they wrote called people to believe in Christ.”


“On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me five golden rings.”

Haidle writes: “Jewish people consider the first five books of the Old Testament—the Torah or the Law…to be five great treasures worth more than gold. Can you name them?”

(pause to allow the to be named—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me six geese a-laying.”

An egg is a symbol of new life because when an egg is fertilized it has new life inside—a baby chick. So the six geese a-laying are to remind us of the six days of Creation when God made new life in the world. (Remember, the seventh day, God rested).

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming.”

The seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are enumerated in Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 11: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

“On the eighth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me eight maids a-milking.”

God’s word is like spiritual milk for our growing spirits. Jesus taught his followers eight sayings called the Beatitudes to help us grow strong in faith.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


“On the ninth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me.” The nine ladies dancing represent the joy that comes from the fruits of the Holy Spirit as St. Paul lists in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The Holy Spirit produces these gifts in the believer’s heart—that’s a good reason to dance for joy!

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ten lords a-leaping.”

The ten lords remind us of the Ten Laws that God would have us leap to obey—the Ten Commandments. These laws show us how best to love God and other people. Help me to list them:

“ I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me…

 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God…

 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…

 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

 You shall not murder

 You shall not commit adultery.

 You shall not steal.

 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

“On the eleventh day of Christmas. My True Love gave to me eleven pipers piping.”

Haidle writes: “Years ago a piper was a man who travelled through villages playing happy tunes on his flute-pipe…when children heard his music…they followed him all over town!

Twelve disciples followed Jesus everywhere he went, but only eleven faithfully stayed with him. Judas double-crossed Jesus. Like pipers, the eleven disciples piped the song of God’s love everywhere they went. Many people listened to their message and followed Jesus too.”

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me twelve drummers drumming.”

A drummer’s job is to beat out a steady rhythm so everyone can play together or march in unity.

“Christians belong to many different churches, but one thing gives them unity—their common beliefs. The Apostles’ Creed lists twelve”…common beliefs Christians share bringing unity and oneness like a band playing to a drummer’s rhythm.

Let us confess this creed together to conclude today’s message:

“ I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

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