TNB Night Owl – “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”

The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster. Photo by Xavier Romero-Frias.

It’s the Christmas season. Or so we think. Exactly when it starts is bit poorly defined these days. In our commercialized, materialistic culture, the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving, or sometimes the day of or even the day before Thanksgiving. Check your local sales flyers for dates. Many retailers put out their Christmas merchandise and displays as soon as Halloween is over – and in truly ridiculous cases, even before that.

In our consumer culture the season ends on Christmas Eve, or for non-retailers it ends on Christmas day, or maybe the day after which is called Boxing Day for those who observe it. But whatever retailers, and advertisers, and credit card companies would like us to think, it hasn’t always been this way.

Did you know that a long, long, time ago the Christmas season was a well-defined time that begins with the first day being December 25 (or the following day in some traditions). Likewise, the season ends on the twelfth day which is January 5th, the day before Epiphany (or in other traditions January 6th, the day of Epiphany).

In fact, there is a Christmas carol that celebrates the original Christmas season. The Twelve Days Of Christmas was first published in 1780 in merry old England in the fashion of a poem, without accompanying music. It featured in a children’s book of memorization games, called Mirth without Mischief. (Apparently the lil’ hooligans back then were known mischief-makers).

A number of different musical compositions were subsequently written for the poem’s lyrics. The popular tune we know today is based on traditional folk music adapted and arranged by Englishman Frederic Austin in 1909. Austin also made two small changes to the original lyrics to better fit with the melody. First, he added the word “On” to the beginning of each stanza of the poem, so that each verse of the song began, “On the nth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me”. Second, he changed the phrase “five gold rings”, to “five golden rings”.

There are numerous other variations of the lyrics and versions of the song that vary by country and region. For example, in North America, the second line of each verse goes, “my true love gave to me”. In other traditions the number of days is different, or more commonly, the gifts given are different.

When I was a kid in elementary school, we learned the North American version of the song. Music and art were mandatory subjects in public schools back then in the land that time has (almost) forgotten. Some of my fondest memories of that time were singing Christmas carols in music class. Then the entire student body sang those Christmas songs for an audience of parents and relatives in the school gymnasium. That was fun. Family and friends has a lot more to do with Christmas than what’s on sale at the Buy More. In that spirit, here’s The Twelve Days Of Christmas, with lyrics, sung by a children’s choir.

Question of the night: What’s your favorite tradition of the season?

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About Richard Doud 606 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.