Day Two of Twelve: Why Turtle Doves?

 

For Catholics, the Christmas liturgical season is just getting started. We’re only on day two! Christmas lasts from December 25th to January 6th, when we celebrate Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles represented by the Magi.

In England, from 1558 to 1829, it was illegal to be Catholic, not just to privately practice the faith. The Twelve Days of Christmas developed during this time as a coded Catechism to teach the faith to children. 

The “true love” mentioned in the song doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so…” — Fr. Hal Stockert, The Origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas

The pear “tree” would also seem significant as representative of the Cross on which Jesus would allow himself to be sacrificed on behalf of God’s children.

On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

The two turtle doves given by True Love represent the Old and the New Testaments. It’s my opinion doves were chosen to suggest the Spirit which inspired the writers of the two testaments. 

Interestingly, the Church jumps right from the Feast of the Nativity into three days commemorating three kinds of martyrs: Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, who was stoned to death for professing Christ the Savior and whose martyrdom was willed and endured; tomorrow is the Feast of Saint John (the Apostle) who willed to be a martyr, but didn’t endure the martyred death of the other apostles; and Saturday is the commemoration of The Holy Innocents who endured martyrs’ deaths under Herod, but didn’t will it for themselves.

This is so characteristic of the dramatic, unexpected turns of the faith. The Nativity presages the Crucifixion which culminates in the Glory of the Resurrection. The blood of the martyrs (actual or metaphorical) is the seed of the Church. The penitential season of Lent leads to the Passion of Good Friday, which culminates in Resurrection Sunday, which kicks off the Easter season (the 40 days before Christ’s Ascension), which precedes the nine days (novena) of anxious waiting for the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) at Pentecost — the Church’s birthday. One could develop spiritual whiplash!

I thought you might like to know it’s not too late to sing Twelve Days and your other favorite carols, and to polish off those kolaches (yum, kolaches). You’re welcome.

Keeping you in suspense for Day Three,
WC

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  1. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Love the Church’s Liturgical calendar! We put up our tree this Sunday and only lit it up on the Vigil of Christmas. Before that only Advent candles. Perhaps because I was born on Jan 5, I’ve always been keen on Epiphany. Now have granddaughter who was born January 7! Boo on the US church changing Epiphany to Sunday closest to the 6th. Enjoy Christmas and all the carols and candles and decorations.

    • #1
  2. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Outstanding, WC. Thank you.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of it. I always thought it was a silly song, but now I get it; can’t wait for the installments. I got a little weepy over the partridge and the doves, but I’m an easy cry.

    colleenb (View Comment):
    We put up our tree this Sunday and only lit it up on the Vigil of Christmas. Before that only Advent candles.

    Yeah…about that. Uh, we never took ours down from last year, and lit it up every night. We like it.

    • #2
  3. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist: The Twelve Days of Christmas developed during this time as a coded Catechism to teach the faith to children. 

    I hate to be a grinch, but I’m rather skeptical of this explanation of the song’s origins.

    • #3
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: The Twelve Days of Christmas developed during this time as a coded Catechism to teach the faith to children.

    I hate to be a grinch, but I’m rather skeptical of this explanation of the song’s origins.

    Okay, Scrooge, but good luck proving a negative!

    • #4
  5. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    In the school chorus Christmas concert lo those many years ago, I was “On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping.”

    • #5
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    In the school chorus Christmas concert lo those many years ago, I was “On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping.”

    Don’t get ahead, Phil. We’re still on day two!

    • #6
  7. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    In the school chorus Christmas concert lo those many years ago, I was “On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping.”

    Don’t get ahead, Phil. We’re still on day two!

    I’d probably forget if I didn’t say it now.

    • #7
  8. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    In the school chorus Christmas concert lo those many years ago, I was “On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping.”

    Don’t get ahead, Phil. We’re still on day two!

    I’d probably forget if I didn’t say it now.

    Ha! Understood. That’s what the internet is for.

    • #8
  9. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I am not a Catholic, but I am all in favor of celebrating Christmas until Epiphany. Keep those Christmas decorations up to January 6. I often remind people who reference “the 12 days of Christmas” that the “12 days” start on December 25, which seems to be new information for a disturbingly large number of people.

    Part of my enthusiasm for remembering Epiphany stems from the year we lived in Italy when I was a small child. I was an American kid, so we had to have gifts on Christmas Day. But the local culture was to exchange gifts on Epiphany (not on Christmas Day), which actually makes sense theologically). So, I got a second round of gifts on Epiphany. Woo Hoo for 7 year old me to get two rounds of gifts. 

    • #9
  10. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: The Twelve Days of Christmas developed during this time as a coded Catechism to teach the faith to children.

    I hate to be a grinch, but I’m rather skeptical of this explanation of the song’s origins.

    Okay, Scrooge, but good luck proving a negative!

    Well, if it was designed as a coded Catechism it seems to me it’s not a very good one. I’m not sure how “Maids A-milking” is supposed to bring to mind the beatitudes — perhaps you’ll explain that in a future post — but even assuming the song somehow helped children learn that there are 10 commandments, 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit, 8 beatitudes, and so forth, what good is that? To learn the faith properly, you should know what the ten commandments are, not merely that there are 10 of them. The song doesn’t help at all with learning that.

     

    • #10
  11. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist: In England, from 1558 to 1829, it was illegal to be Catholic

    The official state religion was Anglicanism, which differed from Catholicism only one a few key disputed points such as the authority of the Church and Bishop of Rome. There’s very little in the supposed “coded” meaning of the song that an Anglican would find objectionable. Two turtle doves represent the two testaments? That’s hardly a controversial heresy that would get a recusant Catholic burned at the stake! To the contrary, a Catholic child would have learned that and a great deal more about the Bible in any public school in the UK or the US right up until the 20th century.

    • #11
  12. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Not all that makes no sense is nonsense. Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge, une perdrix.

    • #12
  13. fidelio102 Inactive
    fidelio102
    @fidelio102

    The theory of a coded message is attractive but has no basis in fact. None of the attributes of the Twelve Days which Western Chauvinist is going to reveal is particular to the Catholic faith. Anglicans believe in all twelve. In any case a text which was supposed to be secretive would hardly mention Christmas in every verse.

    The more likely origin is a children’s “memory and forfeit” game. Each participant has to remember the verse(s) previously sung and add the next. Any memory lapse would result in the payment of a forfeit (e.g. a kiss under the mistletoe.

    On the other hand, it is more than likely that the carol Adeste Fideles (O Come, All Ye Faithful) is a coded message to the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s claim to the English throne: Regem Angelorum (King of the Angels) being a play on the words Regem Anglorum (King of the Angles (English)).

     

    • #13
  14. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    fidelio102 (View Comment):
    The theory of a coded message is attractive but has no basis in fact. None of the attributes of the Twelve Days which Western Chauvinist is going to reveal is particular to the Catholic faith. Anglicans believe in all twelve. In any case a text which was supposed to be secretive would hardly mention Christmas in every verse.

    Shhh, don’t harsh my mellow. I’m digging the theme.

    • #14
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    fidelio102 (View Comment):
    The theory of a coded message is attractive but has no basis in fact. None of the attributes of the Twelve Days which Western Chauvinist is going to reveal is particular to the Catholic faith. Anglicans believe in all twelve. In any case a text which was supposed to be secretive would hardly mention Christmas in every verse.

    Shhh, don’t harsh my mellow. I’m digging the theme.

    Yeah, mellow harshed. But, in researching this, I’ve found some wild alternative explanations, so I’ll post some more. Eventually.

    • #15
  16. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    But, in researching this, I’ve found some wild alternative explanations, so I’ll post some more. Eventually.

    Well, you’ve got 7 days left, and counting…

    • #16
  17. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Someone said to me en passant that the song is really just a roster of birds (the rings and maids as well) and so a memory/list song. 

    There is strong evidence, though, that it is a coded message created by a cabal of merchants designed to increase gift sales that has been promulgated by government operatives in order to stimulate the economy. There is a dark side to this; every winter the INS intercepts hundreds of cargo containers full of foreign musicians, nobility, and milkmaids destined for the Christmas trade. 

    The song should be banned. Mostly because it’s so long, though. 

    • #17
  18. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    TBA (View Comment):

    Someone said to me en passant that the song is really just a roster of birds (the rings and maids as well) and so a memory/list song.

    There is strong evidence, though, that it is a coded message created by a cabal of merchants designed to increase gift sales that has been promulgated by government operatives in order to stimulate the economy. There is a dark side to this; every winter the INS intercepts hundreds of cargo containers full of foreign musicians, nobility, and milkmaids destined for the Christmas trade.

    The song should be banned. Mostly because it’s so long, though.

    Banned? Slippery slope, my friend. Next they’ll be banning 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. What will tour groups do on long bus trips?

    • #18
  19. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    fidelio102 (View Comment):
    The theory of a coded message is attractive but has no basis in fact. None of the attributes of the Twelve Days which Western Chauvinist is going to reveal is particular to the Catholic faith. Anglicans believe in all twelve. In any case a text which was supposed to be secretive would hardly mention Christmas in every verse.

    Shhh, don’t harsh my mellow. I’m digging the theme.

    Yeah, mellow harshed. But, in researching this, I’ve found some wild alternative explanations, so I’ll post some more. Eventually.

    I like the coded message angle. Look how much money Dan Brown made. I’m thinking about this.

    • #19
  20. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Barfly (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Someone said to me en passant that the song is really just a roster of birds (the rings and maids as well) and so a memory/list song.

    There is strong evidence, though, that it is a coded message created by a cabal of merchants designed to increase gift sales that has been promulgated by government operatives in order to stimulate the economy. There is a dark side to this; every winter the INS intercepts hundreds of cargo containers full of foreign musicians, nobility, and milkmaids destined for the Christmas trade.

    The song should be banned. Mostly because it’s so long, though.

    Banned? Slippery slope, my friend. Next they’ll be banning 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. What will tour groups do on long bus trips?

    I would happily push 99 Bottles singers down a slippery slope. 

    • #20
  21. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Barfly (View Comment):
    I like the coded message angle. Look how much money Dan Brown made. I’m thinking about this.

    Good thought, except the coded message is entirely too orthodox. Now if you could “discover” a coded gnostic catechism in the song and concoct a story about how the Catholic Church has suppressed the “real” meaning all these years, then you’d have the ingredients for a best-seller!

    • #21
  22. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Barfly (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Someone said to me en passant that the song is really just a roster of birds (the rings and maids as well) and so a memory/list song.

    There is strong evidence, though, that it is a coded message created by a cabal of merchants designed to increase gift sales that has been promulgated by government operatives in order to stimulate the economy. There is a dark side to this; every winter the INS intercepts hundreds of cargo containers full of foreign musicians, nobility, and milkmaids destined for the Christmas trade.

    The song should be banned. Mostly because it’s so long, though.

    Banned? Slippery slope, my friend. Next they’ll be banning 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. What will tour groups do on long bus trips?

    Showing your age! 😃. All the whippersnappers look at their phones on long bus trips now.

    • #22
  23. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Barfly (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Someone said to me en passant that the song is really just a roster of birds (the rings and maids as well) and so a memory/list song.

    There is strong evidence, though, that it is a coded message created by a cabal of merchants designed to increase gift sales that has been promulgated by government operatives in order to stimulate the economy. There is a dark side to this; every winter the INS intercepts hundreds of cargo containers full of foreign musicians, nobility, and milkmaids destined for the Christmas trade.

    The song should be banned. Mostly because it’s so long, though.

    Banned? Slippery slope, my friend. Next they’ll be banning 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. What will tour groups do on long bus trips?

    Showing your age! 😃. All the whippersnappers look at their phones on long bus trips now.

    What, they don’t know the words and have to look them up?

    • #23
  24. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Barfly (View Comment):
    I like the coded message angle. Look how much money Dan Brown made. I’m thinking about this.

    Good thought, except the coded message is entirely too orthodox. Now if you could “discover” a coded gnostic catechism in the song and concoct a story about how the Catholic Church has suppressed the “real” meaning all these years, then you’d have the ingredients for a best-seller!

    I am on it.

    The Partridge is a shadowy functionary of the European Commission, living outside Peenemunde in an abandoned school bus where he cooks meals for the kids in the neighboring refugee camp. They’re his ratline; think of Holmes’ irregulars. When the UK splits from the EU he suffers a breakdown. One of his personalities becomes convinced the British government is moving to corner the market in pears, currently in great demand due to the latest culinary trends in Rotterdam. The other personality thinks this one is a retard, and retreats into sudoku where he (she, maybe?) discovers a cryptic clue in a holiday-themed puzzle.

    My novel will track The Partridge’s two split personalities as they solve their inner and outer conundrums. The final conflict will start between the two of them, of course, but each will bifurcate into something relevant to the reader. Once I figure out what that is, I’ll go back and add sufficient foreshadowing to make the whole mess seem coherent.

    Many of you will pay $12.99 (14.99 Canadian) for this dreck.

    • #24
  25. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Barfly (View Comment):
    I like the coded message angle. Look how much money Dan Brown made. I’m thinking about this.

    Good thought, except the coded message is entirely too orthodox. Now if you could “discover” a coded gnostic catechism in the song and concoct a story about how the Catholic Church has suppressed the “real” meaning all these years, then you’d have the ingredients for a best-seller!

    I am on it.

    The Partridge is a shadowy functionary of the European Commission, living outside Peenemunde in an abandoned school bus where he cooks meals for the kids in the neighboring refugee camp. They’re his ratline; think of Holmes’ irregulars. When the UK splits from the EU he suffers a breakdown. One of his personalities becomes convinced the British government is moving to corner the market in pears, currently in great demand due to the latest culinary trends in Rotterdam. The other personality thinks this one is a retard, and retreats into sudoku where he (she, maybe?) discovers a cryptic clue in a holiday-themed puzzle.

    My novel will track The Partridge’s two split personalities as they solve their inner and outer conundrums. The final conflict will start between the two of them, of course, but each will bifurcate into something relevant to the reader. Once I figure out what that is, I’ll go back and add sufficient foreshadowing to make the whole mess seem coherent.

    Many of you will pay $12.99 (14.99 Canadian) for this dreck.

    Thank you. I was afraid you were going to shame me for not finishing this series. But, I see you’re just hawking fiction. You know, unlike me.

    • #25