02 January 2011

Nine Ladies Dancing on the Ninth Day of Christmas

On the Ninth Day of Christmas ... Nine Ladies Dancing

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Ninth Day of Christmas, 2 January, and the Second Sunday of Christmas. As this is the first Sunday of the year, it is appropriate that the Gospel reading at the Eucharist is the opening portion of Saint John’s Gospel, which reminds us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … He was in the world, and the world came into being through him.”

In the Roman Catholic tradition and in many Anglican churches, including the Calendar of the Church of England, when this day falls on a weekday it commemorates Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishops and Teachers of the Faith in the fourth century. They were defenders of the doctrine of the incarnation, and so it is appropriate to remember them during the 12 days of Christmas.

The Orthodox calendar celebrated Saint Basil yesterday, and in the Orthodox tradition 2 January instead marks the beginning of the Forefeast of the Theophany, which reaches its climax on 5 January.

The ninth verse of the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is:

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
nine ladies dancing,
eight maids-a-milking,
seven swans-a-swimming,
six geese-a-laying,
five golden rings,
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the nine ladies dancing as figurative representations of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit:

● Love,
● Joy,
● Peace,
● Patience,
● Kindness,
● Goodness,
● Faithfulness,
● Gentleness, and
● Self-control

(see Galatians 5: 19-23).

The Lectionary readings for the Eucharist today are: Jeremiah 31: 7-14 (or Ecclesiasticus 24: 1-12); Psalm 147: 13-21 (or Wisdom 10: 15-21); Ephesians 1: 3-14; John 1: (1-9) 10-18.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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