What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.--The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke &John.-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
"It is important to note that for almost one hundred years prior to the American Revolution, harsh anti-Catholic laws were in effect in the English province of Maryland. Among other things, Catholics could not hold public office, priests were forbidden to hold religious services in public and religious organizations were barred from inheriting or purchasing land. The one glimmer of hope quickly taken advantage of was permission to build private chapels. Catholics who did own land seized this opportunity to build chapels adjoining their manor houses. The sacristy and sanctuary of the present Chapel, c., 1741, perhaps abutted one of these manor houses. During this period, the Jesuit Fathers of White Marsh, with the help of indentured and slave labor worked the plantation as private citizens and served the small but growing Catholic communities in Prince Georges and nearby counties."
I offer up the above not in regards to the truth of the song or not, but rather historical context of how being Catholic has always had its challenges in history.
James: Were you taught the information about Henry VIII and the song from when
you were a young child? Or just recently?