December 11 - 17, 2011: Issue 36

 "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English Christmas carol that enumerates a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. Although first published in England in 1780, textual evidence may indicate the song is French in origin.

The twelve days in the song are the twelve days starting Christmas day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (December 26) (Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day, as being the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr) to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, or the Twelfth Day). Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking."

Although the specific origins of the chant are not known, it possibly began as a Twelfth Night "memories-and-forfeits" game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet. This is how the game is offered up in its earliest known printed version, in the children's book Mirth without Mischief (c. 1780) published in England, which 100 years later Lady Gomme, a collector of folktales and rhymes, described playing every Twelfth Day night before eating mince pies and twelfth cake.

The song apparently is older than the printed version, though it is not known how much older. Textual evidence indicates that the song was not English in origin, but French, though it is considered an English carol. Three French versions of the song are known. If the "partridge in a pear tree" of the English version is to be taken literally, then it seems as if the chant comes from France, since the red-legged (or French) partridge, which perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge, was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of 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 gave to me...
A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The second verse:
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The third verse begins to show some metrical variance, as explained below:
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
...and so forth, until the last verse:
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
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[8]
2 Turtle Doves
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Some misinterpretations have crept into the English-language version over the years. The fourth day's gift is often stated as four "calling" birds but originally was four "colly" birds, being another word for a blackbird.

In Australia, a number of versions are sung, all of which replace the traditional gifts with items (mainly native animals) more likely to be found in that country.
The Twelve Days of Christmas (song). (2011, December 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

December's Pittwater Flowerings


Waterbird is a Darter or Snake-bird Anhinga melanogaster, probably a male, (has chestnut neck markings). It gets the name Snake-bird because when swimming, only the neck and head are above water.It catches fish by spearing them with its sharp stiletto beak, then tosses them into the air and catches them to swallow head-first. It perches on a dead branch or navigation pile to dry its wings by spreading them out from its body. Marita Macrae

Copyright Pittwater Online News, 2011. All Rights Reserved. 

 The Twelve Days of a Pittwater Christmas

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

12 Drummers Drumming

11 Pipers Piping (at the Avalon Tattoo)

10 Lords-a-Leaping ( At BL’s Blast Off)

9 Yachts a Sailing (on Currawong Day)

8 Cockatoos eating (seed on our deck)

7 Waterbirds at Narrabeen Lagoon

6 Pelicans-a-flying (above Palm Beach on a Sunday)

5 Wallabies

4 Native Ducks

3 Coloured Birds

2 Lorikeets

And a Currawong in a Palm Tree.