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Partridges and Pear Trees
Most people, if pressed, can whistle at least a few bars of the Christmas Carol The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Most probably, the general consensus about the verses is that they form part of a nonsense ditty, meant as a memory exercise, on the lines of This is the House That Jack Built, It-Tina Biskuttina, Je suis alle au Marche, Alla Fiera dell'Est, and so forth: with the argument that several other languages – Maltese included – have this type of rhyme. And perhaps it was.
Occasionally, we hear how the English version is a further corruption of the Dog Latin version of a hymn. A partridge in a pear tree is, we are supposed to believe, what has come down to us instead of Parturit in apertum (‘She gave birth in the open air’).
However, the truth may be much simpler. During the Reformation, when it was considered downright dangerous to be a Catholic, this song was re-invented to remind the faithful of the basic tenets. That is to say, it had already existed, but it was ‘borrowed’ by Catholics on an if you can’t beat them, join them, exercise.
Just as the song Pack of Cards made use of the eponymous fistful as “an almanac and a prayer book” for the indicted subaltern, so this song represented all that was held precious – and still is – by Catholics. Again, however, this story is open to correction by those who ‘know’ another reason why it came into being.
The true love who sends something to Me is God who sends His gifts to every one of us.
The Partridge, usually pictured sitting band in the middle of the pear tree, is Jesus Christ who was offered up on a cross.
The two turtle doves are representational of the Old and New Testaments., and the three French hens are the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
The four colly (sometimes described as ‘calling’) birds show the four Gospels, or the Evangelists who wrote them.
The five golden rings illustrate the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, once believed to have been penned by Moses).
The six geese a-laying correspond to the six days of Creation; and the seven swans a- swimming may be either the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the seven Sacraments.
The eight maids a-milking denote the eight Beatitudes, and the nine ladies dancing characterize the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Ten lords a-leaping stand for the Ten Commandments and the eleven pipers piping signify the Apostles, after Judas but before Matthias.
Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.
What's a partridge? What's a pear tree? Well, I don't know. So, please don't ask! On balance: I can bet those are terrible gifts to receive for Christmas.
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