First published in the eighteenth-century, the Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" remains a firm favourite amongst festive folk to this day! There have been many theories about the carol and its hidden meanings, one of which suggests the song was used to help teach Catholics the principles of their faith.
In this scenario the 'partridge in a pear tree' represents Christ. However, other people believe the song was written for a far more whimsical purpose, perhaps as a way of challenging children's memories.
One thing's for certain, this festive Christmas carol features birds. Lots of them! Let's meet some of our festive feathered friends and find out more about them. And yes, we do want you to sing along as you read this blog!
"On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... a partridge in a pear tree"
If you've never seen a partridge before, the first thing you should know is that they're part of the pheasant family. They've lived in the English countryside for hundreds of years and they're rather adorable. We speculate that the partridge mentioned in the song is a grey partridge, a species that's native to England. The only thing we're a little unsure about is what it was doing up in a tree! Partridges are actually ground-feeding birds, so perhaps it was having a rest after its Christmas meal.
"On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... two turtle doves"
We're surprised to see this species included in the Christmas line-up, purely because turtle doves usually visit the UK during summer - not in winter. Over the years, turtle doves, like many birds, have declined in numbers so it's even difficult to see them in summer at times. That being said, they're a very beautiful bird with delicate feathers. They're darker than pigeons have a gentle temperament.
"On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... three french hens"
Ah, the French hen. There are a few different species of French hen that make great contenders for this Christmas carol. We suspect that the author had the iconic Favorelles French hen in mind. They lay lots of eggs during the winter, they're beautiful birds to look at so it wouldn't surprise us if they were chosen as a gift!
"On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... four calling birds"
When the song was originally published, this section actually referred to 'four colly birds', with colly meaning 'black' or 'coal-like'. No surprises for guessing which bird this refers to... the blackbird! Over the years, the verse developed and instead refers to 'calling birds' which could be any kind of songbird!
"On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... five gold rings"
Although this portion of the song makes you think of delightful gold jewellery, it's actually referring to ring-necked birds. For example, pheasants, which have a bright white collar around their necks. They were brought over to the UK from China back in the medieval times (so they've been around for a pretty long time!)
"On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... six geese-a-laying"
Geese are such majestic birds, they're large in size and (sometimes) aggressive - particularly during the laying season. Perhaps they wouldn't make such a nice Christmas gift! In terms of the species, we're pretty certain that the song is referring to a greylag goose. An ancestor to the geese we see in domestic settings today.
"On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... seven swans-a-swimming"
Of all the birds mentioned in the carol, the mute swan is probably the most gift-worthy. With soft white feathers and long, regal necks, these birds are the epitome of elegance. Today, mute swans are protected, but in the past, swans would've been eaten alongside peacocks, blackbirds and other birds that aren't eaten at all today.
"On the eighth day of Christmas, my true sent to me... eight maids-a-milking"
Just when you thought you'd reached a section that couldn't possibly be about birds, we meet the maids-a-milking. These birds are called cattle egrets. They live near to cattle and use the cattle to their advantage. As the cattle walk around, it disturbs worms and bugs under the soil, helping the cattle egrets to secure a quick snack. Would you like these clever birds in your Christmas stocking?
"On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... nine ladies dancing"
These are a fun bunch of birds, the dancing kind! Cormorants have a tendency to bob and splay their wings which looks a lot like a lady dancing. Lots of different bird species dance when they're trying to attract a mate, so a cormorant might be a fitting gift for your true love.
"On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... ten lords-a-leaping"
We've almost reached the end, but there are still some interesting birds to meet. This section refers to grey herons, birds with incredibly long legs and a hunched back giving them a 'lord-like' appearance. As they move through the water they leap and hop, hence the 'lords-a-leaping'.
"On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... eleven pipers piping"
With an iconic 'piping' cry, sandpipers are the penultimate bird in this Christmas carol. They have three notes which they sing as they take flight and they fly with stiff, bowed wings. It's a beautiful sight to behold, but we're not sure whether getting eleven of these noisy birds together would be much of a festive treat.
"On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... twelve drummers drumming"
Here we are, at the end of the twelve days of Christmas and we've saved a delightful little bird for last. Of course, the drummers drumming can be none other than the woodpecker. They spend most of their lives tapping away on trees and hiding from predators and observers. We think woodpeckers would make for a very entertaining gift.
Of course, we don't recommend you follow suit and round up lots of different birds to send to your true love. But, why not get your true love something for the birds? We have lots of bird gifts on offer including our Christmas hampers, bird feeders and wildlife products!
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