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12 Days of Christmas Traditions and the Meaning Behind It

December 1, 2021

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Ask anyone what their true love gave them on the first day of Christmas, and they will likely be able to sing right back, “A partridge in a pear tree!” So how did this ever-popular song and its lyrics come to be?

Many questions often arise, such as why are there so many gifts involved? What does it all mean? Who wants eight Maids-A-Milking, and what would you even do with them? If we stop to think about it, there is a much deeper story waiting to be told. 

We are excited to share the inspiring history behind The 12 Days Of Christmas with you and offer some creative ways you can incorporate this classic theme into your Holiday decorating, gift-giving,  and entertaining this season.

The Beautiful History 

Originally created as a chant or a poem in 1780 and set to music in the 20th Century, this popular song has evolved over time and has never lost its traditional value or incredible meaning.

Most historians believe the song started out as a “memory-and-forfeit” game in England. These types of games were played by British school children, and the rules were simple. When it’s your turn, you repeat all the previously sung lyrics and add the next one. If you can’t remember a verse, you owe your opponent a “forfeit,” which was usually a kiss, or piece of candy.

If we view the 12 Days Of Christmas from a religious perspective, another renowned theory claims that the song was used to secretly pass on the ideology of Christianity and was developed during the time when Christians were punished for worshiping openly.  In this theory, each gift symbolizes a different aspect of faith and honor. Regardless of how the song began, this song is a classic staple of the holiday season. It will continue to be a favorite that is sung by grade school choirs, captured on everyone’s playlists, and is the base from which parodies are made, for generations to come. 

While we are not here to dispel stories or myths but instead, we are here to honor and celebrate the spirit of the season that this timeless holiday classic brings. Traditionally, the 12 Days of Christmas begins with the birth of Christ on December 25th, Christmas Day, and ends with the coming of the Three Wise Men on January 6th, the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day.

Inspired by the warm Christmas carol, we discovered what each gift symbolizes in Christianity and have broken it down for you below:

The Partridge in the Pear Tree is Jesus Christ.

The 2 Turtle Doves are The Old and New Testaments.

The 3 French Hens are Faith, Hope, and Charity, the theological virtues.

The 4 Calling Birds are the four Gospels and/or the four evangelists.

The 5 Golden Rings are the first five books of the Old Testament.

The 6 Geese A-Laying are the six days of creation.

The 7 Swans A-Swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments.

The 8 Maids A-Milking are the eight Beatitudes.

The 9 Ladies Dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The 10 Lords A-Leaping are the Ten Commandments.

The 11 Pipers Piping are the eleven faithful Apostles.

The 12 Drummers Drumming are the twelve points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

Meaningful Decorating

Aside from this famous Christmas song being filled with beautiful lyrics, it is also filled with endless opportunities – Ideal for inspiring tree decorating, hanging holiday home decor, or placing meaningful wreaths throughout your home. As the charming carol revolves around descriptive gifts ranging from a Partridge in a Pear Tree to Golden Rings and Drummers, each of these items can be transformed into beautiful ornaments, seasonal decorations,  stocking accessories, and even Christmas wreaths. 

*eH insight:  One of our favorite ways to honor this beautiful tradition is with, 12 Days Of Christmas-Themed Christmas Tree Ornaments. As a popular trend that never seems to go out of style, there are numerous ornaments available that are stunning and sentimental.

Gifts That Keep On Giving

What if you could make Christmas last a little bit longer? That’s right, imagine extending that special Christmas feeling by not only exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve or Day but also, spreading them out over The 12 Days Of Christmas! That warm feeling of anticipation, excitement, and joy gets to be extended for twelve more days. 

While tradition has it that the 12 Days of Christmas takes place from December 25 – January 6, it is not uncommon in today’s world to see it celebrated during the time leading up to Christmas Day.  Whichever you choose, here are some inspired gifts that capture the full story:

  • 12 Days of Christmas charm bracelet
  • Holiday china set of the 12 Days of Christmas
  • Waterford Crystal 12 Days of Christmas champagne glasses
  • 12 Days of Christmas socks & ties
  • 12 Days of Christmas cookie cutter sets
  • Advent Calendar for the 12 Days
  • Handwritten letters or inspirational notes for each meaningful day

*eH insight: For those who really want to get in the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas, here are some great ways to pass along the story.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Gift ideas include: A fruit basket of pears, pear jams, and pear tarts, pear scented candles, a beautiful cross (necklace, home accessories, or wall art decor), or a holy cross tree-topper

 Turtle Doves – Gift ideas include: Homemade turtle candies, dove art prints, dove ornaments, or dove chocolates (because who doesn’t love chocolate?)

3 French Hens – Gift ideas include: Hen and chick succulents, French perfume, French macarons, decorative books, cooking apron or jewelry with Faith, Hope & Joy (representing the theological Saints). 

4 Calling Birds – Gift ideas include – Bird-inspired artwork, coffee table books about birds, birdfeeders or birdhouses, Alabaster Bible, representing the Gospels. 

5 Golden Rings – Gift ideas include – Gold napkin rings, gold stacking bracelets, prayer rocks, or prayer bracelets with 5 beads. 

6 Geese A-Laying – Gift ideas include – Egg maker or slicer, goose down comforter, Grey Goose metal cocktail stirrers, Celtic knot wall hanging decor, pillows, and jewelry that represents the Holy Trinity & Holy Spirit.

7 Swans A-Swimming – Gift ideas include – Swan brooch, “Little Swan” book, tickets to see Swan Lake, inspirational mugs, devotional medals,  a swan wine opener or Seven Sacraments pocket stones.

8 Maids A-Milking – Gift ideas include – Milk bath gift set, cow milk + creamer set, milk bottle planters, milk foamer for coffee or tea, or  Beatitudes wall art.

9 Ladies Dancing – Gift ideas include – A gift certificate for dance lesson(s), tickets to see the Nutcracker Ballet or The Rockettes, Ladyfingers cookies, fruit bowls, or fruit cakes to represent the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.

10 Lords A-Leaping – Gift ideas include – Nativity ornament, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Leap Year Movie, jump rope, coffee mug, bookmarker, or Ten Commandments wall art. 

11 Pipers Piping – Gift ideas include – Toy flute, decorative flute for home decor, or Book of Acts (The Apostles). 

12 Drummers Drumming – Gift ideas include: Little drummer boy ornament, Caribbean music played on steel drums, drum of popcorn, tickets to a concert or live band performance, or 12 faith-based tea towels set to represent the Apostles.

Recipes That Fill Your Belly & Soul 

Holiday time revolves around entertaining, connecting, and of course, sharing meals with family and friends.  At everything HOSPITALITY, we love bringing people together with unforgettable meals and signature drinks that warm everyone’s heart. 

Whether you’re hosting gatherings, attending an event, or simply stirring up your favorite recipes at home, there are various recipes to celebrate The 12 Days Of Christmas. These dishes are beautiful to look at and even better to taste!

From appetizers to main courses, desserts, and even cocktails, each sentimental day can be recreated into a warm delicious dish or a savory drink that sings to your soul! Here are our favorite 12 Days Of Christmas-themed recipes from each meal category (adult drink included!) – Enjoy! 


Deviled Eggs

This perfect appetizer symbolizes ‘6 Geese A-Laying’. Easy to make, this tasty finger food is ideal for mingling and connecting with friends at gatherings. 

Main Dish

Salami, Spinach, and Provolone Stromboli Ring

Representing ‘5-Golden Rings’, this irresistible ring of deliciousness is an awesome and unique addition to any table spread.


Chocolate Eggnog Floats

This mouthwatering recipe symbolizes ‘8 Maids A-Milking’ and will have everyone at the dinner table asking for seconds! 


Spiked Peppermint Hot Chocolate

 A rich, creamy, delicious Spiked Peppermint Hot Chocolate is the perfect way to celebrate ‘11 Pipers Piping’! Pair it with Peppermint Schnapps for adult holiday cheer!

There you have it! The beautiful story behind The 12 Days Of Christmas and all the exciting ways you can bring this story to life in your home. We wish you all joy and happiness as you enjoy the holiday season with family and friends. 

Wishing you a Christmas that is Merry, Bright, and Blessed. 

-everything HOSPITALITY

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