Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Twelve Days, Twelve Glorious Days of Christmas

Here it is, the twelfth and final day of Christmas. I know for most of us the blowout celebration on the 25th (and likely the eve before) had us spent. These twelve days, including the New Year's celebration has us recovering and looking for some sense of normalcy and quiet. I for one with three kids in the house and crazy traveling to see family following the hectic work days for me, have left me with a sense of longing for peace and quiet.

But the twelve days have been a glorious celebration. I have seen friends and family. I even had some time to myself. I do feel like we have been celebrating all along. And this continued sense of celebration led me ponder one of the great Christmas mysteries. The meaning of the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Granted, the song doesn't really rank up there with the mystery of the Incarnation, but whenever I hear it, I do wonder about it. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a website that made the claim that this song was a secret catechetical tool for outlawed Catholics in France. Each verse was meant to symbolize some element of doctrine. The "True Love" is God. The "partridge in a pear tree" is Jesus Christ on the cross. The "two turtle doves" are the old and new testaments. The "three french hens" are the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The "four calling birds" are the four gospels. The "five gold rings" are the Pentateuch. And so on and and so on. Of course, there are no real anchors between the symbol and the meaning. So "three calling birds" could be the theological virtues of 1 Corinthians 13, faith, hope and love, rather than the Trinity. It is analogous to trying to bind meaning to the four candles on the Advent wreath. Hope, peace, joy, love. Or alternatively, prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels. Sometimes we inherit practices and traditions upon which we feel we must tie meanings even though multiple meanings could be assigned.

However, the bigger mystery for me is not about the meaning, but the gifts themselves. How many do we get? It sounds like I have been influenced by my seven-year old, I know. The first day the true love gives me a partridge in a pear tree. But on the second day? Do I just get two turtle doves? OR do I actually get what the song says. I have had this debate with people from time to time and they think I am crazy. The song, however says, "On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree." I find the "AND" to mean that on the second day, I get two turtle doves AND a partridge in a pear tree. Therefore on the second day, I have received a total of two turtle doves and TWO partridges in their respective pear trees. On the third day then I receive three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. So for the three days of Christmas I will have received in total, three French hens, four turtle doves (two doves twice) and then three partridges in pear trees.

On the twelfth day of Christmas I will have received in total from my true love:
  • 12 times -- a partidge in pear trees
  • 11 times -- two turtle doves
  • 10 times -- three French hens
  • 9 times -- four calling birds
  • 8 times -- five gold rings
  • 7 times -- six geese a'laying
  • 6 times -- seven swans a'swimming
  • 5 times -- eight maids a'milking
  • 4 times -- nine ladies dancing
  • 3 times -- ten lords a' leaping
  • 2 times -- eleven pipers piping
  • 1 time -- twelve drummers drumming
Thus the grand total at the end: Twelve partridges in twelve pear trees, twenty-two turtle doves, thirty French hens, thirty-six calling birds, forty gold rings, forty-two geese, forty-two swans, forty maids, thirty-six dancing ladies, thirty leaping lords, twenty-two piping pipers, and twelve drumming drummers.

What grand, gracious and generous gifts from my true love! This would be a glorious Christmas indeed. And in this scheme, the holiday grows every single day. No massive explosion that quickly tapered away to nothing. No. This giver builds upon every day.

Maybe then the true love IS God. For if this reckoning of the song IS true, and I think that it is, I cannot help but hear the echoes of the first chapter of John's gospel. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. .... From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." (John 1:14, 16)

Twelve glorious Christmas days to reflect on the mystery of the gift of the Incarnation, that God the Son might become flesh and dwell among us. And it grows leading to even more abundant gifts as Christ dwells with and in us. And now the celebration of the Incarnation need not end, even if our season of Christmas does.

One last time to everyone, Merry Christmas!!!

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