The Complete Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

What are your favorite things about Christmas? We know that the spiritual answer is, “Well I am so consumed with my love for Jesus that I cannot see anything else during the Christmas season.” While that may be the Christian-eze answer, we all must confess, and I think with joy, to loving many other things during this season of Christmas. I love snow and so one of my fervent hopes and prayers each year is to have a little white precipitation falling, though each year I seem to mover further and further south and away from any chance of a white Christmas.

Growing up my mother loved ornaments and it seemed that each year brought new trinkets to adorn our tree. We had every colored ball and babble to reflect the lights that intertwined the limbs. We had ornaments from Germany and England and other European countries as well as family ornaments from Virginia and the Carolinas. Each ornament had a little history to go with it and it was my mother’s goal each year to cement in her children’s memories who had given it or where it was purchased or what its story was. Now that I have my own wife and children, we have continued to expand our ornament gathering. Each Saturday following Thanksgiving, we drag from the closet all of our tree decorating boxes and begin to erect our Christmas tree, lit with multi-colored lights and hanging from each branch our many different ornaments, most with a little story to go with them. Where we purchase them or from whom we received them or what is their significance is often discussed as we unpack them from their year-long slumber, trying to continue my mother’s tradition.  

Ornaments can be fun to collect and discuss and hang and in the past few years we have sought to focus on twelve ornaments in particular. You are no doubt familiar with the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” but you may be unaware of the origins of this song and the traditions that go with it. We will spend this week and next devotionally looking at the song and its accompanying ornaments as we seek to prepare for the birth of our King. I hope that this enlivens your heart to worship the true reason we celebrate this season. These devotionals are taken from two sources; The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Story Behind A Favorite Christmas Song by Helen Haidle and a handout on the same, author unknown.

Introduction and the First Day of Christmas

Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th? I am sorry to disillusion you if you believed that that was indeed the day on which He was born but His exact birthday has been lost to history but most historians believe that He was most probably born closer to our summer months in July. A date was chosen many years ago for which we could celebrate His birth as we don’t know the exact day. December 25th was chosen as the Christ-mass, as the day to celebrate His birthday.

“The Twelfth Day after Christmas, January 6th, was selected as the day to honor the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus. This day was called Epiphany. In 567AD, the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany were filled with festivals, ending with a party on the Twelfth Night.” (pg. 1 Haidle)

While they celebrated the twelve days following Christmas, we will use the days leading up to His birth and celebrate. Parents you could use these devotionals to prepare your children for the true meaning and purpose of Christmas. On the First day of Christmas we are told a Partridge in a Pear Tree was given. What is this strange bird perched in a tree, and what does it have to do with Christ? “The partridge was known as a valiant bird, willing to fight to the death for its young. This bird’s readiness to die for its young made it an ancient symbol of Christ. The pear tree represents the cross.” (from a hand-out on this topic, author unknown).

As we move toward the day of our Savior’s birth read over the below passages and reflect on how Christ came to willingly give Himself for you, offering His life on the Cross.

John 10:14-15 (ESV)

“14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 3:16 (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Second Day of Christmas

We are told that on this second day of Christmas that his true love gave him two turtle-doves. Our gift giver seems to have access to some strange birds, but what is the significance to these two feathered presents?

“Turtledoves (also called doves) are known as gentle birds of peace. Long ago people gave doves to God as a gift of love. Jewish fathers and mothers gave two doves to God when they brought a newborn baby to the Temple in Jerusalem.” (Haidle)

When Jesus was forty days old, we are told in Scripture that His parents brought Him to Jerusalem to the temple as was the custom and would have offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice, as was required by Jewish law. When we sing this song or hang an ornament of two turtle doves, let it remind us of the baby Jesus who was brought to the temple and lived as a child.

Read over the below passages and consider how Christ, God incarnate, endured humiliation as He lived as a child in flesh.

Luke 2:22-24 (ESV)

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Philippians 2:4-7 (ESV)

4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men.

The Third Day of Christmas

Continuing the bird motif, our giver sends three French hens to his love. In the 16th century a French hen was far more expensive than the standard hen and only the wealth could afford them. Three expensive birds as a gift ought to excite our minds, bringing up images of the three wise-men or magi from the East coming to visit the baby Jesus, laying at His feet their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

“Gold is the most valuable gift of all. Incense comes from tree bark and is burned during times of prayer. Myrrh is a thick reddish gum used as a perfume.” (Haidle)These were very costly gifts but gifts worthy of a king.

Read over the passages below and worship Christ as the King; of the universe and of your life!

Matthew 2:10-11(ESV)

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Psalm 22: 27-28 (ESV)

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

Our giver must have worked at a zoo or been a lover of ornithology because our fourth gift is again in the bird family. Four calling birds arrived on the fourth day of Christmas. Birds can be amazing to watch, spying a hawk making lazy circles in the sky or observing a cardinal perched on a fence post. Listening to birds make their calls can tickle the ear as well.

“These birds are reminders of the four Gospel writers. They proclaimed the testimony of Jesus’ life and teachings. Like birds calling out with loud and distinctive voices, they spread abroad the news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.” (handout)

Read over John 20:30-31 (ESV)

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Read over the Gospel of Mark this week to be reminded of how Christ came and what He came to do.

The Fifth Day of Christmas

Perhaps the receiver of the previous gift requested a “no more birds” policy of giving because our giver next presents five golden rings. To understand how precious a gift of a golden ring is many simply have to look down at their finger. A ring is given as a token and pledge of love and faithfulness in engagement and in marriage.

To the Jew, “the first five books of the Old Testament- the Torah or Law (God’s directions)- (are considered) to be five great treasures worth more than gold.” (Haidle) Let the five golden rings of our song remind us of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and let us give thanks to the Lord for giving His love letter – the Bible – that we might know Him this season.

Psalm 19:9-10 (ESV) “9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12 (ESV)

10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Back to the birds our giver goes on this the sixth day of Christmas. “The eggs symbolize new life and the six geese a-laying represent the six days of creation when God, by His Word, brought forth life on the earth.” (Haidle) Read this passage from Genesis 1 and celebrate our Creator God, Christ Jesus:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The Seventh Day of Christmas

On the seventh day seven swans a-swimming were given. When a new baby swan is born he is anything but attractive. It is black and matted. As it grows and changes, it becomes more and more beautiful. Its feathers turn a glossy white and its neck stretches out into its glorious length.

As believers we too are changed over time. The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out, heart and mind. The Holy Spirit gives seven special gifts to His children that help the believer grow to resemble Christ more and more and enables them to serve other.

Read over the below passage and thank the Lord for the gifts He has given you:

Romans 12:6-8

6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,[a] with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day maids a-milking are given. All babies need food to help their bodies grow and be healthy. Their food comes in the form of mother’s milk. Milk helps your bones grow strong and healthy in the way that God intended.

How is reading God’s Word like drinking milk? God’s Word helps us grow in our heart and mind and spirit. Jesus taught his followers eight special sayings called the Beatitudes to help them grow strong in their faith.

Let the eight maids a-milking remind us of the eight Beatitudes and pray for these blessings in your life.

Matthew 5:3-10

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Ninth Day of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas nine ladies dancing are given. Are you a happy person? Do you ever dance when you feel joyful (alright maybe in the privacy of your room or even in your mind)? Do you know people who need more joy in their lives, or more love, or peace, or patience? How does a person get all of these things listed?

God’s Holy Spirit has been given as our helper. He creates in us love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. That is a reason to dance for joy, even if just in our heads and hearts!

So let the nine ladies dancing remind you of the nine traits that the Holy Spirit creates. Ask for these qualities today!

Galatians 5:22-23

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

(The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Story Behind A Favorite Christmas Song by Helen Haidle and a handout on the same, author unknown.)

The Tenth Day of Christmas

On the tenth day of Christmas we find ten lords a-leaping. What is a Lord in this context? A lord long ago was an important man who commanded others and whose commands had to be obeyed.

Today we may not have lords but we do have others we are called to obey. Whether a boss or a teacher or a parent there are many authorities in our lives we are called to obey. Ultimately we are to obey the Lord God. He has given us His commands that we are to live by and obey. The Ten Commandments tell us what to do and what not to do. They show us how to love God and how to love others.

Read over Exodus 20:2-17 and be reminded that the Lord has given us His commandments that we might experience life, and it to the full.

Also read over the passage below that gives the foundation for why we are to obey those in authority over us.

Romans 13:1-5

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

“Years ago a piper was a man who traveled through villages playing happy tunes on his flute-pipe. What do you think happened when children heard his music? They followed him all over town!

Twelve disciples followed Jesus everywhere he went, but only eleven faithfully stayed with him. Judas double-crossed Jesus. Like pipers, the eleven disciples piped the song of God’s love everywhere they went. Many people listened to their message and followed Jesus too.

So let eleven pipers piping help you to remember to follow Jesus.”

Mark 3:16-19

16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

(The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Story Behind A Favorite Christmas Song by Helen Haidle and a handout on the same, author unknown.)

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

We come now to our last day of Christmas and I hope that you have enjoyed these simple reminders of worship over the past couple of weeks. On the twelfth day drummers drumming were given.

“What is a drummer’s special job? A drummer must beat out a steady rhythm so everyone can march or play music together in unity. What would happen if drummers stopped drumming?

Christians belong to many different churches, but one thing gives them unity- their common beliefs. The Apostle’s Creed lists twelve things Christian believe about God. This brings oneness and unity, like a band marching to the drummer’s beat.

So let twelve drummers drumming remind you of The Apostle’s Creed-twelve important beliefs of Christians.” Is this what you believe and hold dear?

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

(The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Story Behind A Favorite Christmas Song by Helen Haidle and a handout on the same, author unknown.)