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The 12 Days of Christmas: A Biblical Tradition, a Timeless Song, and Festive Delights

roast goose in 12 days of Christmas
Traditional Roast Goose - recipe below

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and tradition. Among the many customs and festivities associated with Christmas, one that stands out is the "12 Days of Christmas." This beloved song and tradition have deep historical and religious roots, offering a fascinating glimpse into the rich tapestry of Christmas traditions. In this blog post, we will explore the origins of the 12 days, the history of the song, the foods mentioned in it, and how Christians celebrate these days today. Plus, we'll even share a delightful recipe tied to one of the song's references!

The Origin of the 12 Days of Christmas

The "12 Days of Christmas" refer to a Christian tradition that begins on December 25th and culminates on January 6th, known as Epiphany or Twelfth Night. These 12 days are rooted in both biblical and historical significance.

Biblically, the 12 days represent the time between the birth of Jesus Christ and the arrival of the Magi, or Three Wise Men, at the Nativity scene. According to the Bible, the Magi traveled from the East, following a star, to present gifts to the newborn King. Their arrival is celebrated on Epiphany, marking the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles.

Historically, these 12 days were a period of celebration, feasting, and gift-giving in medieval Europe. Each day had its own unique customs and traditions, with some regions having their own variations. It was a time when people would come together to enjoy the company of loved ones and exchange presents.

The Origin of the Song

The song "The 12 Days of Christmas" has a more recent history than the tradition it celebrates. It is believed to have originated in 18th-century England, although its exact authorship is still debated. Some attribute it to the Catholic Church, suggesting that it was used as a catechism song to secretly teach Christian doctrine during a time of religious persecution. Each gift in the song symbolizes a different aspect of the faith:

  1. Partridge in a pear tree: Jesus Christ

  2. Two turtle doves: The Old and New Testaments

  3. Three French hens: Faith, hope, and love

  4. Four calling birds: The four Gospels

  5. Five golden rings: The Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible)

  6. Six geese a-laying: The six days of creation

  7. Seven swans a-swimming: The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

  8. Eight maids a-milking: The eight Beatitudes

  9. Nine ladies dancing: The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit

  10. Ten lords a-leaping: The Ten Commandments

  11. Eleven pipers piping: The eleven faithful apostles

  12. Twelve drummers drumming: The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

The Foods Mentioned in the Song

The song "The 12 Days of Christmas" doesn't just symbolize Christian doctrine; it also mentions various foods, reflecting the feasting and merriment associated with the season. These include:

  • Partridge in a pear tree: Pears were a common medieval fruit, and partridge was a popular game bird.

  • Geese a-laying: Goose was a traditional Christmas dish in Europe.

  • French hens: Likely a reference to the fine dining traditions of France.

  • Calling birds: This could refer to any small, edible birds typically enjoyed during feasts.

Celebrating the 12 Days Today

Today, Christians celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas in various ways. While the religious significance remains, the emphasis on feasting and gift-giving has evolved over time. Some modern customs include:

  1. Advent Calendars: Many Christians use Advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas.

  2. Caroling: Singing Christmas carols, including "The 12 Days of Christmas," is a popular tradition.

  3. Nativity Scenes: Families often set up nativity scenes, gradually adding the Three Wise Men over the 12 days.

  4. Epiphany: On January 6th, some Christians attend church services to celebrate the Epiphany.

Recipe: Roast Goose with Pear Stuffing

As a nod to the foods mentioned in the song, here's a delicious recipe for Roast Goose with Pear Stuffing, perfect for a festive 12 Days of Christmas celebration:


  • 1 whole goose (about 10-12 pounds)

  • 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

  • 1/2 cup chopped onions

  • 1/2 cup chopped celery

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the diced pears, breadcrumbs, chopped onions, chopped celery, minced garlic, thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

  3. Stuff the goose with the pear stuffing mixture, and then truss the bird.

  4. Place the stuffed goose on a roasting rack in a large roasting pan. Pour the chicken broth into the pan.

  5. Roast the goose in the preheated oven for about 2.5 to 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the thigh.

  6. Let the goose rest for about 20 minutes before carving.

Serve the roast goose with your favorite holiday side dishes for a festive and delicious 12 Days of Christmas feast!

The 12 Days of Christmas offer a unique blend of biblical history, symbolism, and joyful celebration. While the origins of the song are still debated, it remains a cherished part of the holiday season, reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas and the joy of sharing this special time with loved ones. So, as you enjoy the festivities and feasts of this season, may the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas fill your heart with joy and wonder.


Heavenly Father, in this sacred space, Between Christmas and Epiphany's grace, May your love and light ever shine, As we follow the star, your presence divine.

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