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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,