The Story Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas


A classic Christmas carol, the Twelve Days of Christmas is one that everyone knows, no matter what age you are or where you live. It’s the perfect tune to hum along to while baking mince pies or hanging your decorations on the tree, and it’s the latest design from Sophie Allport, Partridge in a Pear Tree, bringing a traditional look mixed with a modern and stylish take on a beautiful collection of homewares. But what is the true meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas and where does it originate? Let’s have a little look!

The Story Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas by Sophie Allport

It’s actually unknown where the carol first originated, but we do know that the earliest known version was published in a children’s book in London in 1780, called Mirth without Mischief. Some believe that the song could be originally French, however many historians believe that it started as a “memory-and-forfeit” game in the 1800s, where you would have to repeat all the previously sung lyrics and test your recall. If one verse were to be missed or a mistake made then the opponent would be given a 'forfeit' (which would often be a favour, a piece of candy or even a kiss).

The Story Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas by Sophie Allport

Of course, there have been lots of different variations of the lyrics from what we know today. The earliest known versions referred to ‘colly birds', instead of ‘calling birds’, and others make references to ‘ships a sailing’, ‘ladies spinning’, ‘bells a ringing’, ‘hares a running’, ‘bears a beating’ and so on.

Many people do believe the carol is a reference to Christianity, with the 12 days historically referring to the 12 days following Christmas, not in the lead up to Christmas. With the first day of Christmas being Christmas Day, the birth of Jesus, and ending with the three wise men on the 6th January, also known as the Three Kings Day or Epiphany.

The Story Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas by Sophie Allport

And finally, if you've ever thought that’s a lot of gifts to give someone, you are correct, and since 1984, PNC Bank has tracked how much all the presents would cost each year, and 2019 currently stands at a small fortune of £30,089.40! The index uses current market rates to calculate how much each gift would cost and adds it all up, it’s in dollars so understandably we have converted it to pounds, but you can take a look at previous years here.

The Story Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas by Sophie Allport

12 Days of Christmas song lyrics

The lyrics most people are familiar with today are:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me A partridge in a pear tree.
(The song then adds a gift each day building on the verse before it, until you have recited all twelve days and all 12 gifts).
Day 2: two turtle doves
Day 3: three French hens
Day 4: four calling birds
Day 5: five gold rings
Day 6: six geese a-laying
Day 7: seven swans a-swimming
Day 8: eight maids a-milking
Day 9: nine ladies dancing
Day 10: 10 lords a-leaping
Day 11: 11 pipers piping
Day 12: 12 drummers drumming

The Story Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas by Sophie Allport

If you love humming this tune as much as we do, then you will love Sophie’s new Christmas collection, Partridge in a Pear Tree. Sophie really has brought this Christmas carol to life, with her traditional and stylish design featuring on a range of beautiful homewares such as kitchen linens, table settings, fine bone china, printed trays, Christmas stockings and sacks, and much more. One of our favourites is the 12 Days of Christmas Felt Decorations which feature all the little characters and makes a lovely statement on any Christmas tree. 

Have you seen the new Christmas collection? We'd love to hear your thoughts, let us know in the comments below.

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