Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rhys's 12 Days of Christmas, Day One

In celebration of my new book, The Twelve Days of Christmas, I'm going to be blogging every day from now until Christmas Eve, sharing all kinds of interesting snippets of Christmas lore and tradition.

And what better place to start than the song on which the book is based. The Twelve Days of Christmas originally came from France, and all of the first days have to do with good things to eat.

The partridge in a pear tree... well, that's a mis-translation or misunderstanding. You see, the French word for partridge is perdrix. Try saying perdrix and it will sound like "pear tree".
So the song words are really "A partridge, a perdrix."

The two turtle doves are not lovebirds, but again birds that are good to eat at a Christmas feast.
As are three French hens.
And the four calling birds... are really colly birds, which is another word for blackbirds. And as we know they used to be baked in pies, according to the nursery rhyme.

And the gold rings?  No, not things you'd wear on your fingers but ring-necked pheasants. And then follow the geese and the swans...

So the first half of the song is all about killing fowls for the Christmas feast.

You have to remember that in days of yore the normal diet of most people was very plain, very little meat, often hungry. So Christmas was one of the few times of the year when they would pull out all the stops and feast for several days.

You'll notice there is no turkey in the song. Turkeys are New World birds and hadn't been discovered when the song was first composed.

More interesting Christmas trivia tomorrow....


  1. Very interesting.

    By the way, I read Twelve Clues of Christmas and loved it. I'm now reading another book centered around Christmas in England. It sure makes me want to try some traditional English recipes.

  2. I just finished listening to Twelve Clues of Christmas via audiobook. That's what I've done with the other books in the series. I wish all of your books were in audiobook format. Anyway, I loved it and also hadn't realized until this book that the 12 days of Christmas came AFTER Dec 25th - at least my old brain doesn't remember that fact, if I knew if previously.

  3. Thank you for this, Rhys! I've often thought that the song didn't make much sense to me; it sounded like a REALLY weird bunch of gifts to be given.

  4. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the 12 days after Christmas not the days before. The Christmas season is after Christmas Day not before. Maybe you can plan to post about it after Christmas Day. Most people have no clue.


  5. I prefer Jolly Old Hawk, which is from the same school of '12 days' songs. Excerpt here -
    Not so much food as entertainment animals, bears, hawk, horses.

    And, as Anonymous said, the 12 days of Christmas run from 25th Dec to 6th Jan, hence taking the decorations down on the 6th.

    Of course, my household is pagan so we have a Yule tree.