Search: colly bird
Why: I recently learned that it's spost to be "four colly birds," not "calling birds." (THANKS AGAIN, FARMVILLE.)
Epiphany. Folks have been celebrating the Epiphany and the days leading up to it since at least the 4th century (except for a brief spell in the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell did away with Christmas).
Onward: There are symbols, and there are other "symbols" that are religious.
A Pear Tree
A symbol of fertility, like Eve's apple(?) - except this time, the pear represents male virility. On Christmas morning, a maiden could walk backward around a pear tree three times, and then she would see the face of her future husband in its branches.A Partridge
A "lusty suitor"- especially a red one - very fertile and supposed to produce a lot of offspring.
For the religious folk, partridge = Jesus and pear tree = the cross, or tree = God.Turtle Doves
Symbols of love, as they are said to mate for life. Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of love, was hatched from an egg that was warmed by two doves.French Hens
Religious: two turtle doves = Old and New Testaments
Hens symbolize motherly devotion, and the fact that they're specifically French signifies a new breed of chicken, the old (Roman) mixed with the new (Oriental).Colly Birds
R: The gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) or the 3 theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity)
Colly = collie = coalie = coal = black birds... = crows. Blackbirds were a delicacy in Medieval tymez, and one guy made a pie for Twelfth Night that was 9 feet in circumference.Golden Rings
R: the Four Gospels or the Four Evangelists
Not rings for fingers, but the rings on the pheasant's neck! Another Medieval delicacy, this one somehow related to Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Only the very rich and royal get to order the pheasant.
Hey girl.Geese a-Laying
R: The Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses) and/or rings = eternity (5 rings = 5 eternities)
Geese have been popular in folklore for a long time, symbols of fertility and protection and the soul and all sorts of other things. After people ate all the boars to death, they started eating Christmas goose instead.Swans a-Swimming
R: 6 days of Creation
Swans can both fly and swim, and they are therefore a link between the natural and supernatural worlds. Maybe they are even immortal. They are a symbol of royalty in Britain.Maids a-Milking
R: Take your pick - 7th day of Creation/rest, 7 deadly sins, 7 Sacraments, 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, 7 spiritual Works of Mercy, 7 Chipmunks Twirling on a Branch Eating Lots of Sunflowers on My Uncle's Ranch...
Before refrigeration was a thing, fresh milk was a rare treat, but people ate cheese til the cows came home. An old Christmas game called "Yawning for the Cheshire Cheese," wherein the person with the longest and most awesome yawn won some cheese. Truth be told, I'm playing it in my cubicle right now, but the prize is self-loathing and something very close to minimum wage. Anyway, when an 18th century maid was asked to "go a-milking," it was a proposal for either marriage or a roll in the hay.Ladies Dancing
R: The 8 Beatitudes of Jesus what.
Dances were called caroles (like Christmas carols) and were considered sins of the flesh. The Church tried to ban them, but was unsuccessful because a) a lot of the people dancing weren't even Christian in the first place and b) this isn't 1984 West Virginia. The best they could hope for was that people danced left-to-right, the virtuous way, and not right-to-left, the evil way.
R: 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit or 9 Choirs of AngelsLords a-Leaping
Only men could do the leap dance, and they did so to rile themselves up for purposes of fertility and also for war. During Twelfth Night celebrations, British "morris dancers" lined up in two teams and leapt about with swords.
This style of dance eventually fell out of fashion except at faires and festivals and whatnot.Pipers Piping
R: 10 Commandments
Did you know that shepherds were playing the bagpipes the night that Jesus was born? No shit! Shepherding is boring, so the pipes get a lot of mileage in the fields. Over time, they even became the unofficial instrument of Scottish battlefields - so much so that they were banned in Ireland. French nobility played the musette bagpipe during Twelfth Night ordeals.
R: 11 Faithful Apostles (all the ones except Judas)Drummers Drumming
Town watchmen ("waits") walked around at night til dawn, patrolling the streets, playing the tabor drums, and singing. Around Christmastime, they were nicely rewarded. This eventually stopped - I assume because people were trying to sleep and drums are just awful - but drums came back as people marched into battle. A skilled musician could play the drums and the pipes, called the whittle and dub.
R: 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 Prophets, 12 Points of Doctrine in the Apostle's Creed...Source: Brownie Locks and the 3 Bears, HubPages
The More You Know: In elementary school, we learned "Twelve Days of Christmas" in French. The only part I remember was that the "partridge in a pear tree" in that version was un cochon dans un pull - a pig in a pullover. Wut.
Fun fact: I know the words to "Frosty the Snowman" in French, but not English. Tonka tonk tonk tonk