was actually written as a teaching tool for children to
remember basic Christian doctrine. According to folklore,
the Roman Catholics were not allowed to practice their
faith in public during the sixteenth century. In order not
to arouse any suspicion, this song was written as a secret
code to remind the children about their faith.
Each gift in the song has a hidden meaning regarding the
Christian doctrine. Below is an explanation of what each
A partridge in a pear tree
The partridge is a picture of Christ while the pear tree
represents the cross. Partridges are known to give up their
lives to protect their young, thus representing Jesus who
died on the cross for us.
A picture of the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens
In the sixteenth century, only the rich could afford
French hens. These costly poultry were used to represent the
three precious gifts of faith, hope and love in 1
Four calling birds
The four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Five gold rings
The represent the first five books of the Old Testament,
collectively called the Torah, which are highly esteemed and
considered of more worth than gold.
Six geese a-laying
Since eggs symbolise new life, this is a picture of the
six days of God's creation.
Seven swans a-swimming
The sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit according to
Eight maids a-milking
The eight beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-10
Nine ladies dancing
The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit as listed in Galatians
5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Ten lords a-leaping
A picture of the Ten Commandments.
Eleven pipers piping
The 11 disciples of Jesus who were faithful to Him
Twelve drummers drumming
The 12 beliefs stated in the Apostles' Creed.