Moralexicon #1: “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

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It is time to introduce you to concept of imaginary knowledge.

The reasoning behind the Imaginary Knowledge Theorem is simple. If there are real and imaginary numbers, and both are equally useful and true, and both are part of knowledge, then it would stand to reason that there are both real and imaginary knowledges. Both real and imaginary knowledges are legitimate, and both are part of reason. I have therefore set forth to make a collection of all unified knowledge, real and imaginary. In light of this, I sought my strange trans-spatial mentor, The Morales, a master of both knowledges, with access to imaginary knowledges beyond our comprehension. He agreed to help me, provided I named the collection after him. Thus was born the Moralexicon, and I hope you enjoy learning every part of reason.

In other words, while I will most definitely admit that a good chunk of these articles are made up, and the knowledge is spiked with nonsense, I do this at least partly so that the reader might grow interested in the subject matter, and research the given topic on their own time and leisure. [Ed. Note — Or, at least, to come tell us why we’re full of it.]

History

The song has a rather interesting history. It seems to have appeared in a couple of different versions, but by all accounts originates in London. Apparently, the song came to focus as a memory-forfeit game for Twelfth Night, in a collection named Mirth without Mischief (1780). The lyrics have undergone several variations and different scores; however, I believe it arrived at its current version due to the inclination to better align the song with its probable meaning (more below). In any case, the now familiar prolongation “five golden rings” was added in Frederic Austin’s 1909 edition, which has since become authoritative.

Use

The “Twelve Days of Christmas” is a famously festive Christmas carol. The song serves as a secular alternative to more religious songs, while still bearing the mighty weight of tradition. This view of the carol is highly erroneous, for reasons I will discuss later, but still no doubt the reasoning behind the obsession with the “twelve days of Christmas.” Indeed, the retail industry has provided an alternative twelve days preceding Christmas so that everyone, regardless of religious convictions, can celebrate them.

Interpretation and Implications

At any rate, it is generally agreed that the song is confusing. Who is this true love? Why give these objects? An age-old interpretation is that the sum of each gift equals 364, or the amount of days in the year. This view is nonsense, however; the holiday precedes the song, and the song is based on the distance between two holidays, so the idea that it counts the days of the year is laughable. I find a logical exegesis, drawing on medieval history, helps in a situation like this.

The ancient practice of exegesis is a process of looking at the logical patterns of the text (in this case, the definitive 1909 Austin edition mentioned above) and drawing logical conclusions from it, which makes the matter entirely simple.

  • The twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the drummers who signaled the approach of God’s covenant to the world.
  • The eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles who went forth announcing the good news unto all people.
  • The ten lords a-leaping represent the nine Worthies, and a tenth who represents worthies yet to come.
  • The nine ladies dancing represent nine worthy women of the Bible.
  • The eight maids a-milking represent the Eight Beatitudes.
  • The seven swans a-swimming represent the week, for the sun is but a celestial swan swimming across the sphere of the skies, and it does this but seven times a week, which to a casual observer could appear to be seven different suns.
  • The six geese a-laying are the six parts of the Bible: the Pentateuch, the historical books, the wisdom books, the prophetic books, the Gospels, and the epistles.
  • The five golden rings represent the five Patriarchs of the Church: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople.
  • The four calling birds represent the four Evangelists who called forth God’s word.
  • The three French hens represent the past, present and future; compared to the rest of the gifts, a hen is rather unimportant and stupid, much like the mere passage of time compared to these other transcendent matters. However, time is most certainly an important enough aspect of reality to mention here.
  • The two turtledoves represent the two covenants; each is based on different sacrifices, as represented by the turtledoves, a traditional bird of sacrifice.
  • Last, but most certainly not least, the partridge in a pear tree represents the Trinity, for there are three separate parts, the partridge, the pears, and the tree; yet these three are one “gift,” one entity.

In other words, rather than being a long-winded song about the days of the year, or a simple love story, or even a way of counting down to the Epiphany, the fun “Twelve Days of Christmas” is revealed as a summation of the core of Christian thought, those selfsame truths handed down for generations beautifully reflected against the feast of Christmastide.