Monday, 10 December 2018

Counting the true cost of
the 12 days of Christmas

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas … twelve drummer drumming. This CartoonChurch.com cartoon originally appeared in the Church Times and is taken from ‘My Pew: Things I have seen from it’, published by Canterbury Press

Patrick Comerford

Some people think this is Christmas time. But this is Advent, and Christmas begins on Christmas Day, 25 December, and continues for 12 Days until 5 January. When we reach the end of Christmas, we celebrate the Epiphany on 6 January, known as ‘Twelfth Night.’

There is a twelve-verse song that helped people in the past to count out these days, called The Twelve Days of Christmas. When I was a child, it was a favourite song for boring adults. But the way it counts out the numbers is very interesting.
I’m not going to sing all of it, but the last verse sings:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
12 drummers drumming,
11 pipers piping,
10 lords a leaping,
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.


This song counts out a series of increasingly generous gifts given by the singer’s ‘true love’ on each of the 12 Days of Christmas.

The song may have French origins, but it was first published in England in 1780. It may have been a ‘memories-and-forfeits’ game. The leader recites a verse, each player repeats the verse, the leader adds another verse, and so on until one player makes a mistake. That player then has to pay a forfeit, giving someone a kiss or a sweet.

One explanation says the lyrics were written as a catechism song to help young people learn their faith when celebrations of Christmas were prohibited, during the Cromwellian era (1649-1660).

On the First Day of Christmas … a partridge in a pear tree (The PNC Christmas Price Index 2018)

25 December: Christian interpretations of this song often see the partridge in a pear tree as a representation of Christ on the Cross, so that God, in his infinite love, sent on Christmas Day the gift of Christ the Saviour. A mother partridge feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling Christ’s saying: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …’ (Luke 13: 34).

On the Second Day of Christmas … two turtle doves

26 December: We often say he two turtle doves represent the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, or teach the truth Jesus Christ was both God and human.

On the Third Day of Christmas … three French hens

27 December: The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the three French hens as figurative representations of the three theological virtues – faith, hope and love (see I Corinthians 13: 13). Others say they represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; or the three gifts of the Wise Men, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas … four colly birds

28 December: Colly birds were blackbirds, but the Christian interpretation of this song often describes them as ‘calling birds’ so that they come to represent the Four Evangelists or the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas … five golden rings

29 December: The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the five golden rings as figurative representations of the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas … six geese-a-laying; geese on the banks of the River Cam behind King’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Tenaya Hurst)

30 December: The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the six geese a-laying as figurative representations of the six days of Creation (see Genesis 1).

On the Seventh Day of Christmas … seven swans-a-swimming on the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

31 December: the seven swans-a-swimming are supposed to make us think of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas … eight maids-a-milking

1 January: Many see the eight maids-a-milking as a way of representing the eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5: 2-10):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas … Nine Ladies Dancing

2 January: The nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit described by Saint Paul (see Galatians 5: 19-23):

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

On the Tenth Day of Christmas … ten lords-a-leaping at a charity event in the House of Lords

3 January: the 10 lords-a-leaping may represent the 10 Commandments.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas … eleven pipers piping; a pack of Christmas cards designed by the English designer, Julia Crossland

4 January: The 11 pipers piping are seen as representatives of the 11 faithful disciples, counting out Judas: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot and Jude.



5 January: The 12 drummers drumming are said to represent of the 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed.

Adding it all up

If my true love gave me all those gifts in the 12 Days of Christmas, I would end up with 224 birds in all: 12 partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 colly (or calling) birds, 40 gold rings (pheasants), 42 geese and 42 swans.

If we are add all the gifts together, they would add up to 364 gifts, which, along with the true love, comes to 365, the number of days in the year.

Since 1984, the costs of the have been estimated by PNC Bank, in the Christmas Price Index. Of course, the people mentioned in the song are hired, not bought.

The original cost of all goods and services at Christmas 1984 was $12,623.10. This year (2018), the total costs of all goods and services according to the Christmas Price Index is $39,094.93, ‘due to high-flying Geese prices and a tight labour market for Lords-a-Leaping, Pipers Piping and Drummers Drumming.’

The ‘True Cost of Christmas in Song’ is $170,609.46, the cumulative cost of all the gifts when you count each repetition in the song (364 gifts).

But the real cost of Christmas, is that God gave us his only Son, Jesus Christ, and the true love of Christmas, is God’s love for us in Christ.

Love came down at Christmas … the true cost of Christmas, and true love at Christmas

These notes were prepared for a school assembly in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on Monday 10 December 2018

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(10): 10 December 2018

The healing of the paralytic man (Luke 5: 17-26) … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

Today marks the final day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Monday 10 December 2018:


Pray for a world in which women and girls might enjoy the same freedoms and rights as men.

The Cathedral Close, facing the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Luke 5: 17-26.

The reflection for today suggests:

Pray for all who are physically disabled and all who care for them. Ask to be shown how to help others in need.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 35: 1-10; Psalm 85: 7-13; Luke 5: 17-26.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.