“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was never one of my favorite carols, but I’ve recently come to appreciate it a bit more. Any song that requires me to clear my calendar for a week is not going to make my Top 10 list. But the main question I always had about the song is: Why so many birds? I’ve received many Christmas gifts over the years, but never a bird. What kind of “true love” gives so many different types of birds for Christmas? 1 partridge + 2 turtle doves + 3 French hens + 4 calling birds = TEN birds. No wonder he has to bring five golden rings to make up for days one through four. Only jewelry could bring him out of the doghouse.
What does he bring her on day six? Should have brought chocolates, but nooooo…GEESE. And even SWANS the next day. The following day he sends eight maids a-milking. I didn’t even know you could milk birds, so this was news to me. I would have been nervous that the next day’s gift would be eight cows. With so many birds, the only gifts that would have been appropriate at this point would have been a mop and a new roasting pan.
The last four days of gifts actually do make sense to me. From days nine through eleven, he sends thirty people dancing, and leaping, and playing music. This was clearly to distract her from the absurdity of his earlier gifts. He was hoping that a personal Broadway show would cover up the mess and commotion caused by the 23 birds. It’s a good thing she gets twelve drummers at the end, presumably to beat him over the head.
This carol was written centuries ago, when Christmas was not one day of celebration, but twelve. In the Middle Ages, everyone tried to extend such happy times as long as possible. While our modern selection of gifts would look much different (hopefully), the heart behind the concept of extending Christmas intrigues me.
The twelve days of Christmas have now become the twelve minutes of Christmas. With all of the buildup of excitement and the effort to write cards, bake, shop, and wrap, the actual celebration of Christmas passes in a blur. Consider a child’s schedule on Christmas morning:
5:00 a.m. jump on parents to wake them up
5:01 a.m. get ready as fast as humanly possible
5:03 a.m. race to Christmas tree
5:10 a.m. finish opening gifts
5:12 a.m. finish playing with new toys
Instead of a twelve day feast, we get a “fast food Christmas.” We scarf down our holiday rather than savoring it. So as long as I can clear my calendar and maintain enough oxygen, I can now enjoy singing the longest and silliest Christmas carol of all time. Crazy bird lyrics aside, it will always be a gentle reminder not to rush a good thing. I think we could all use a little extension of peace, love, and happiness.