You know the song. You’ve been singing the 12 Days of Christmas for the past several days leading up to the big day, haven’t you? Well, if you have, you’ve gotten it all wrong from the start. So here for your trivia-loving Christmas time pleasure, is a list of 12 things you got wrong about the 12 Days of Christmas.
Begin After Christmas
1. Apparently, the 12 Days of Christmas begin from Christmas. So you should start singing on the 26th of December, not the 13th. They commemorate the 12 days between the birth of Christ and the Epiphany, when the Magi came to bring gifts (January 6).
12 Days is Originally French
2. The 12 Days of Christmas is a very old song, and probably originally French. (Okay, you probably already guessed it was old…but did you know it was French?)
Colly Birds are Blackbirds
3. The fourth day brings four “colly birds”, not “calling birds” — This is just one of the gifts that we’ve changed up over the years. Think about playing “operator” when you were a child: Repeating the same verse over and over from child to child until the last one recites what they heard. It’s always messed up! Well, in this case, we no longer say “colly birds” because “colly” no longer is used to mean “black as coal”. If you want to be correct, you should sing “four black birds” or similar.
5 Golden Rings — Not as Dear as You May Think!
4. Five golden rings may not actually as precious as it sounds. It probably refers to a certain kind of bird which had lovely golden rings around its neck around Christmas time. So the first seven verses all refer to types of birds. Unless, of course, you believe the 1780 version of the song, which does include an illustration of 5 golden rings. The mystery continues!
A Partridge – Partridge?
5. Speaking of which…the partridge in a pear tree. That’s a bit odd, don’t you think? Have you ever seen a partridge in any kind of tree? And a pear tree? There is lots of evidence that this was added into the English version because the Old French for partridge was pertis, which sounds a lot like “pear tree”. In the original French version, there’s just the partridge. In English, it suddenly becomes partridge in a pear tree…partridge-partridge?
Only 10 Days?
6. In the north of England, there are only 10 days of Christmas, so the song is often referred to as “the 10 Days of Christmas”.
Secret Hidden Meaning?
7. In 1979, a Canadian tried to make the claim that the 12 Days of Christmas has a hidden meaning for Catholics trying to remember the important aspects of their faith. Though he later admitted he made this up, the rumor has been circulating ever since, and has turned into a proper urban legend.
How Much Would the Gifts Cost?
8. Since 1984, a running tab has been kept of how much it would actually cost to buy all 12 gifts. The tally for 2014 is $27,673, according to the New York Times. If you decide to shop for the gifts online, it will cost you $42,959.07, mostly due to the expensive shipping costs for the untraditional items.
9. Just to be clear, the 12 Days of Christmas is a purely secular song. Even though it refers to religious days (Christmas and Epiphany) this time period was a celebratory one.
A Simple Memory Game
10. It’s possible that the song was simply a memory game played at Christmas parties. There is the possibility that some of the gifts have symbolic meaning, but it’s controversial.
Australian Version of the Song
11. In Australia, there’s a version of the song that includes Australian animals.
Special Bonus Coding Challenge:
Bonus: If you’d like a fun challenge, try rosettacode.org for a 12 Days of Christmas Challenge.