On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree…
Legend and controversy surround the popular Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” claiming that the verses contain a secret code, used, perhaps as early as the 1500’s, to transmit hidden doctrine between followers of Christ - under the very noses (or past the very ears) of those in power who would persecute them for their faith.
We don’t know who wrote the lyrics to this song, and while the legends may or may not be true, we can certainly have some fun with the symbols contained in the carol which are discoverable to whosoever loves and studies the Word of God.
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out (Proverbs 25:2 ESV).
The twelve days of Christmas begin on December 25, Christmas Day, and end on January 6, the Day of Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the three Magi to confirm the prophecy regarding the birth of the King of the Jews.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him (Matthew 2:1-2 KJV).
On the first day of Christmas, the number 1 represents the unity of the Godhead, described in the Shema prayer in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and confirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:29-31:
Jesus answered, “The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The picture of a partridge in a pear tree can be understood to symbolize Jesus, crucified at Calvary – and after the resurrection, Jesus as the firstfruits – the first person resurrected from the dead, who delivers the kingdom of God to his Father, described in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; and the pear tree as the cross upon which Christ was crucified, which becomes the Tree of Life, in Revelation 22:1-2.
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19 ESV).
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26 ESV).
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2 ESV).
We could do lengthy Bible studies on the symbols in each of the twelve days of the carol, but for now, we’ll just stick with the highlights. What other types and shadows can you find in the scriptures that would fit the pictures in the song? Travel with us over the next eleven days, as we continue to explore the Biblical images revealed in "The Twelve Days of Christmas"!