On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me

XRF_12daysIn the U.S., you start to hear Christmas music played on the radio after the late November holiday of Thanksgiving, and you continue to hear it all the way through the month of December. By New Year’s Day, the radio stations stop playing Christmas music. For most people, Christmas is “over,” finished. Time to get back to work!

But traditionally (and still in other countries around the world), the celebration of Christmas begins on December 25th, and doesn’t end until January 6th. January 6th is celebrated under different names depending on the culture and particular Christian group you’re in, but most people who know about it in the U.S. associate it with the “Three Kings” or “Three Wise Men” or “Epiphany” (for the story, see here).

There’s a popular song called the “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which some Americans think refers to the 12 days before Christmas, when in fact it refers to the 12 days after Christmas – that is, from Christmas to the celebration of the Epiphany. The song is about gifts that your “true love” (your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse (husband or wife)) gives to you. Each day you get a different gift, starting with one of something, then two of something, then three of something, and so forth.

Most people (including me) can remember the first five verses (sections) of the song, corresponding to (relating to) the first five days of Christmas, but can’t remember the rest of the verses. So below are the “gifts” for all 12 days and an explanation of them.

If you are not familiar with the song, you’ll want to watch a video of it also (see below).

Here then are the 12 gifts (look at the image above also to help you):

  • A partridge in a pear tree – a partridge is a kind of bird, and a pear is a type of fruit
  • Two turtle dovesturtle doves are another kind of bird
  • Three French hens – also called Faverolles, they’re a type of chicken
  • Four calling birds – also called a songbird for the noise they make
  • Five golden rings – a ring is what you wear on your finger as jewelry
  • Six geese a-layinggeese are (of course) birds, and “a-laying” is another way of saying that they are producing eggs (the “a” in front of the gerund “laying” is an Old English way of indicating the present progressive, so “a-laying” would be “is/are laying”)
  • Seven swans a-swimmingswans are beautiful birds related to ducks and geese
  • Eight maids a-milking – a milkmaid is a girl or woman who works getting milk (white liquid) from a cow (maid is an old word for a young, usually unmarried woman)
  • Nine ladies dancing – a lady can refer to a woman, but an older use of the word refers especially to a woman of authority, power, and wealth (lots of money) (I’m pretty sure my wife would never give this gift to me.)
  • Ten lords a-leaping – a lord is an older term for a man of power and wealth, often the owner of a large house and a lot of land; to leap means to jump
  • Eleven pipers piping – a piper is someone who plays a musical instrument such as a bagpipe; to pipe is the verb used to refer to playing a bagpipe or other similar instrument
  • Twelve drummers drumming – a drummer plays a drum, a musical instrument that requires that you hit it to make a sound; to drum refers to playing that instrument.

To really appreciate the song, you have to listen to it. Here is a video with the music and images of the different gifts.

Do you have this song in your language (or a similar version)? Has anyone ever given you seven swans a-swimming or ten lords a-leaping?


Image Credit: “XRF 12days” by Xavier Romero-Frias



This entry was posted in Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me

  1. Dan says:

    Hello everyone,

    I have never heard this song before. I am not aware of an Italian version of it I’ll look it up. Probably there is something similar.

    While I’ll admit that I find the video kind of cute, you know, the drawings the cute little animals and so on, at three french hens when I realized it replayed all the verses again all the times
    I was like “What! Noooo”

    Besides the song it sounds creepy. Kind of the soundtrack of a psycho killer.

    If I had to choose one of those gift I would get the Hens. That because I enjoy looking at them. They are funny to watch what they do and how behave and look at you.

    Thanks Jeff

  2. Tania says:

    Dear Jeff,
    “As I think about our friendship and how happy it has made me,
    I want to wish you happiness in the year to come”.

    All the best for you,


  3. Dan says:

    Hi me again,

    How stupid am I?

    We have a song like that in Italian and it’s very popular. No offence but it sounds better than the one above. My personal opinion.

    It is called – Alla fiera dell’est by Angelo Branduardi- Check it out on YT guys.


  4. Dan says:

    Well, It’s not a Christmas song but is has the same structure like the one Jeff posted.

    While looking for it I have also found many versions that make fun of the Italians. That was fun as well.

    I have also found one where there is this lady with her nephews in family setting singing it and it’s clear they are Italians/Americans
    I like that because she has a thick Italian accent and you can see the gap between generations as the kids have no accent. I have enjoyed that too.


  5. Marcos says:

    Hi Dr. Jeff and everyone

    I never heard nothing like this on christmas day when I was child but maybe my nephew know about that song since today the american culture is more present on my country among children and teenagers.

    Nice day to us

  6. Tania says:

    Hi! Posted on January 6th, within the twelth days of Christmas, this Christmas carol is the Jeff’s gift for us. I thought that he forgot us.
    I do not know the song and nor a similar version. But I like the song.
    It is in the Christmas spirit, the joy of all children. All naive drawings, all colours, all birds remember me of our childhood.
    I remember of my first Christmas tree, and maybe the need to believe in Santa Claus. Believing that Santa Claus exists with his sleigh, with gifts for all children.
    Snow, songs, trees with tinsel, gifts, joyful children… this is the Christmas spirit.

  7. Tania says:

    Hi! Gifts that your “true love” gives to you…
    To my “true love” I would give “two turtle dove”.
    In my country, the white dove is the symbol of purity, the symbol of stability as they form strong pair bonds.
    We say that they love like two doves.

  8. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Jeff, I believe you that your wife would never give you “nine ladies dancing”. They are too many for a man, and you don’t like to dance.

  9. Tania says:

    Hi! I like and “four calling birds” as a gift.
    Calling bird or songbird or Eastern yellow robin remember me of “If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking”, Emily Dickinson’ poem. (English Cafe 274/ 2010)

    “If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.”

  10. Tania says:

    Hi! Yes, a very nice gift is and “”seven swans a-swimming”. (Thank you for the new form to me a-swimming.)
    I can admire swans on our lakes. Swans usually mate for life.
    In Greek mythology , the swan was considered a symbol of harmony and beauty.

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! Still, the swan has something tragic in its silent.
    The “Swan song” is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort given just before death or retirement.
    The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death,
    being silent during most of their lifetime.

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Emiliano, dear Dan, dear Betty and all our dear blog friends I wish you

  13. Tania says:

    Hi! A nice concert on TV in my country , ” Bon Anniversaire , Monsieur Chopin”.
    I have tried to watch the concert, but it is too difficult to me.
    Frederic Francois Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era,
    who wrote primarily for the solo piano.

  14. Tania says:

    Hi! I have seen a movie where someone says: “Call me Ishmael.”
    It’s about the famous brief sentence from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

  15. emiliano says:

    Thank you Tania, just the same to you, a happy new year full of nice surprises.

    A sad day today for all the people who believe in liberty and democracy, I am
    really sad for the people killed in Paris this morning.
    All my condolences for their families, for all the French people and even for all the
    persons that belive in the real valours of words and ideas without any kind
    of violence.

    I don´t really know what to say, only that this morning it is a very sad
    begining of the year for me.

    Very bad for all of us, but even worst for the good honored muslim people
    who has to suffer inside their life the agresivity of some other furious persons
    angry when they see these sad events and think every one of their oponents
    in religión are tge sane,

    Yes, it is really sad, and bad very bad for all of us humans with different
    feelings and believes.

  16. Tania says:

    Hi! I agree with you, dear Emiliano.
    Very sad events for all of us.

  17. Tania says:

    Hi! I’d like to read all books recommanded by our teachers.
    Lack of time, lack of wish… one of the reasons for which we can’t answer to all themes debated.
    After one year I succeeded in reading two important novels, “Absalom, Absalom!” and “The Unvanquished” by William Faulkner (English Cafe 437/ February 2, 2014).
    To understand Faulkner’s works we have to read more about his works.
    According to Wikipedia, the title “Absalom, Absalom!” refers to the Biblical story of Absalom, a son of David who rebelled against his father and who was killed by David’s general Joab.

  18. Tania says:

    Hi! “Absalom, Absalom!” , along with “The Sound and the Fury”, helped Faulkner win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    In 2009, Absalom, Absalom! was called the best Southern novel of all time.

    The 1983 Guinness Book of World Records claims the “Longest Sentence in Literature” is a sentence from Absalom,Absalom!
    containing 1,288 words. The sentence can be found in Chapter 6; it begins with the words “Just exactly like father”, and ends with
    ” the eye could not see from any point”.

    Hi! I have read this the longest sentence in literature, on four pages of the book.
    Very interesting his writing style. Difficult to follow all ideas and actions, but it’s a fascinating style. A real exercise for our brain.
    Many, many epithets, repetitions…
    For instance, in my translation:
    – a endless, quiet, hot, inert, dead afternoon of September;
    – a dry, alive, dusty sound;
    – they knew that we knew and we knew that they knew that we knew and we knew…

    Hi! His writing style emphasizes the difficulty which man must encounter when he seeks after the real truth.
    Some critics have stated that it is best to take the story as a given, and regard it on the level of a myth.
    I agree with this idea. Being from another geographical area, we can’t understand very well the black or white fight, or to be a black part of someone.

    Hi! I think and the author answers us at our puzzle.
    “What is it? something you live and breathe in like air? a kind of vacuum filled with…anger and pride and glory at and in happenings
    that occurred and ceased fifty years ago?”
    ‘… Gettysburg’, Quentin said. ‘You can’t understand it. You would have to be born there.’

    Yes, we would have to be born there to understand the fight, anger and pride…

    “Why do you hate the South?”
    “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t.
    I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

    Absalom, Absalom! Quote

  19. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Hello, everybody. I’m here again reading your comments. I learn a lot with your words. Thank you all.

  20. Tania says:

    Hi! I have just read and “The Unvanquished” by William Faulkner.
    Main character is Bayard Sartoris, and his father had James Fenimore Cooper’s works in his book-case.
    I remember of English Cafe 470/2014 where Jeff talks about the first great American novelist, Fenimore Cooper.
    It was a time when we read many books with indians and their fight for land. I read “The Last of Mochicans”, his masterpiece, many year ago.

    Hi! In “The Unvanquished” we can find Sutpen’s story in brief, the character from “Absalom, Absalom!”
    I think that this is the writer’s opinion about Sutpen’s life.

    Hi! I like this novel as it is not a puzzle like Absalom,Absalom!
    In my opinion, too many incestuous feelings.
    I admire Drusilla and her courage, her scent of verbena which covered the smell of the war.

  21. Tania says:

    Hi! Last evening I saw the movie “”The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond”.
    It’s a 1957 play written by Tennessee Williams (1911 – 1983).
    He wrote and “A Streetcar Named Desire” (English Cafe 438/ 2014).
    A pleasure to see such nice movies.

  22. peter says:

    Truth to be told ,no one gave me a damn thing
    I was all alone all by myself through the entire holiday season. I flew solo. Don’t get me wrong I m not a lone wolf.on the contrary , I enjoy companionship a great deal. I like to hang out with people and make new friends. I would like the compony. Well you know , christmass is a family time. And I m single. Well, look at the bright side! I didn’t give out any gifts either., not even one penny out of my pocket :))
    U know , in a way I m happy that I didn’t have to go thorough all the give-giving and give exchanging ritual. It saved me a lot of hassel if you ask.
    Well , no use grinding in it. It is all behind me.
    But , I get all Christmassy with you guys here on the blog with all the christmass-related posts.
    U know here, at this Center , everyday feels like jolly and christmasy as I learn new stuff every time I m here.

    You generously porportion friend:)))))) from Toronto ,ON : Pete

  23. Mine says:

    I have listen The twelve days of Christmas I guess since I was a child.
    Always in English version (I am from Mexico)
    Recently I hear a weird Mexican version of this song.
    Have a nice day.

  24. Dan says:

    Hi Pete.

    Same here. You have described my holiday season as well. That was pretty much what I did.
    For me it’s good enough. Nothing to complain about.

    Take care, bye.

Comments are closed.