The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. The melodies of collected versions of the carol vary throughout history. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who introduced the familiar prolongation of the verse 'five gold rings' (now usually called 'five golden rings').

So, just a silly song? On the surface maybe, but in reality, a refreshing reminder of the essential elements of the Christian faith. The twelve days of Christmas may no longer be a widely recognised holiday tradition, but the days were an important bridge that connected persecuted believers of the past with the whole story of God’s plan. In the complicated world of today, a trip back to the not-so-distant past when Christians celebrated the twelve days of Christmas would only enhance the meaning of Christmas for everyone.

Why were these twelve days important? These dozen days were tied to more than just the teaching of the Catholic Church. A host of other denominations also celebrated the twelve days of Christmas. Some denominations celebrated Christmas in January and began to count the twelve days then. But whenever they began, the counting of the days became an important facet of each holiday season. Even in the Dark Ages, in some Eastern European churches, the twelve days of Christmas meant attending daily church services. For Christians who lived during this extremely difficult age, the twelve days were a time of rededication and renewal. It was also a period when small, simple, and usually symbolic gifts of faith were given to children. Thus, in both coded poems and public worship, the twelve days were considered a holy period.

In ancient times, when most societies were rural, few people worked in the dead of winter. It was a time when many were spending long, dark days inside their homes, looking forward to winter’s chill giving way to the spring thaw. So devoting a dozen days to prayer, reflection, and attending church was not a huge undertaking. Yet with the coming of the Industrial Age and the regular year-round work schedules it brought, finding time to continue the activities that had been traditionally associated with the twelve days of Christmas became all but impossible for most people.

So the passing of the twelve-days custom probably had as much to do with 'progress' as with anything else. As fewer and fewer churches and families participated in the tradition, it was all but lost. Yet in the obscure poem that was later turned into a popular carol, 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' live on. And the twelve days described are actually a wonderful and complete picture of the Christian faith.

The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not a sweetheart but the Church’s code for God. The person who receives the gifts represents anyone who has accepted Christ as the Son of God and as Savior. And each of the gifts portrays an important facet of the story of true faith.

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