Four calling birds? A partridge in a pear tree? No one is sure exactly what the twelve gifts in the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” represent, but there have been several theories. One interesting claim is that the song was written to help young Catholics learn their faith. In this interpretation, each Christmas gift represents something connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Looking at the song this way helps families focus on the true meaning of Christmas. We've taken this tradition and added a little bit of an LDS spin to it.
On each of the twelve days leading up to Christmas, you and your family can take a closer look at each of the Christmas gifts from the song. Use the following interpretations and lesson ideas as a jumping off point for relating the twelve gifts to Christ:
A partridge in a pear tree: The partridge could represent Jesus, who said He would shelter his chicks under his wings, similar to what a mother partridge does (see Luke 13:34). Tell family members to make a list of Jesus’s qualities and personality traits (compassionate, forgiving, powerful, etc.). Adults and older children can find scriptures in the topical guide that correspond with each of these characteristics.
Two turtle doves: These have been thought to represent the Old and New Testaments, but they could also represent the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Talk with your family about how all scripture works together to testify of Christ. Have each family member find a scripture in each of the standard works that testifies of Christ.
Three French hens: These can represent the three kings bearing gifts, or they could stand for the three Christlike attributes of faith, hope, and charity. Read 1 Corinthians 13:13 and Moroni 10:20-23. Set goals of what you could do as a family or as individuals to better develop one of these attributes.
Four calling birds: These represent the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), because each of these disciples call out to the world through their testimonies of Jesus Christ. Look up “Gospels” in the Bible Dictionary; look at the chart that depicts harmony in the gospels and notice how several of these four men testified of some of the same events from Christ’s life. Talk about the principle of having more than one witness, found in 2 Corinthians 13:1 and Ether 5:4.
Five golden rings: These symbolize the first five books of the Old Testament (known in some religions as the Torah or the Pentateuch). Talk about how Christ led Moses and the children of Israel to the promised land and especially discuss the many miracles that happened along the way. Discuss other miracles that Christ performed and look up corresponding scriptures. You can also talk about miracles you have experienced in your own lives.
Six geese a-laying: These stand for the six days it took Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to create the Earth. Read the account in Genesis 1. Have younger children draw pictures of the creation.
Seven swans a-swimming: These represent the seven gifts of the spirit, although in LDS tradition there are many more than seven. Make a list of spiritual gifts from Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-33, 1 Corinthians 12:1-12, and Moroni 10:8-18. Try to identify strengths you have and how you can improve upon them.
Eight maids a-milking: These stand for the eight Beatitudes, as taught by Jesus in Matthew 5 and 3 Nephi 12. Have family members make up skits to demonstrate one of the Beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing: These represent the nine fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22. On a piece of paper folded in the middle, write on one side family members’ ideas of how they feel when the Spirit is present, and on the other side how they feel when the Spirit is not present. Discuss what you could do as a family to have the Spirit dwell in your home.
Ten lords a-leaping: These signify the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20 and Mosiah 12-13. Discuss each commandment or draw a picture to represent each one. Have each family member share an experience in which they chose to follow one of the commandments even though it may not have been the easiest choice.
Eleven pipers piping: These symbolize the eleven faithful apostles in Christ’s original church. See if you can name all of them. Talk about who these men were before they were called as apostles: Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen; Matthew was a tax collector. Why did Christ call men from such humble circumstances? How did these men learn and grow through their experiences with Christ?
Twelve drummers drumming: In the original Catholic version, the twelve drummers represent the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed (an early statement of belief accepted by the Catholic Church). For an LDS take, they can represent the twelve living apostles in Christ’s restored church. Look up information about the apostles and prophets on lds.org. Create an apostle memory matching game by making fifteen cards with the apostles’ pictures and fifteen cards with their names; children must match the faces with the names.