Gunther Simmermacher at the excellent site for South African Catholics gives some basic biographies of Christmas songs. Putting to rest a story about the “Twelve Days” I always thought smelled fishy:

With true loves choosing such bizarre presents as a-leaping lords and martial marching bands, “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” seems to be a lot of doggerel with little Christian relevance. The song used to serve as a children’s forfeit game, whereby the first child to mess up his or her line would have to pay a penalty (a sweet, perhaps, or a kiss).

A modern theory, for which there is no historical evidence despite wide dissemination, holds that the song was a coded catechism during the time of Catholic persecution in England. The theory falls apart on the question of which of the 12 teachings — other than the number of sacraments — are so specifically Catholic (and therefore “un-Anglican”) as to require clandestine encoding.

The late Michael Perry has a new set of lyrics to this tune. I used it one year with a children’s choir. Quite fun.

What would be interesting to collect would be the top ten myths about Christmas songs. For instance, did Franz Gruber really start the sacred folk music movement when he wrote “Silent Night”?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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