According to a very popular e-mail, from 1558 to 1829 Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith in public or private. It was illegal to be Catholic, upon penalty of death. So Catholics wrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to secretly teach their children the basics of the Christian faith. Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, children could sing it without fear of punishment because Protestants wouldn’t know it was a religious song.
A partridge in a pear tree: Jesus Christ
Two turtle doves: the Old & New Testament.
Three French hens: the three cardinal virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity
Four calling birds: the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Five golden rings: the five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch)
Six geese a laying: the six days of creation
Seven swans a swimming: the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight maids a milking: the eight Beatitudes
Nine ladies dancing: the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten lords a-leaping: the Ten Commandments
Eleven pipers piping: the eleven faithful disciples
Twelve drummers drumming: 12 points of the Apostle’s Creed
The trouble with this bit of pseudo-history is that these teachings are as much Protestant as Catholic. And the gift “clues” are not an aid to memory; they add a layer to the memory chore.