The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

John Stokoe, 1888

Source: John Stokoe, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in the continuing series of articles titled "The North=Country Garland of Song," appearing in The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend, Vol. II, No. 11 (Printed and Published for Proprietors of the "Newcastle Weekly Chronicle" by Walter Scott, Newcastle-On-Tyne, January, 1888), pp. 41-42.

Sheet Music: Mr. John Bell, of Gates head, ca. 1808

See: Twelve Days of Christmas - Notes on the Festival and the Carol

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, extending from Christmas to Epiphany, were usually, in olden times, the days of the whole year wherein to make merry, and to fraternize in mirth and good fellowship, as the old song, "Drive the Cold Winter Away," has it :

When Christmas-tide comes in like a bride,
    With holly and ivy clad,
Twelve days in the year much mirth and good cheer
    In every household is had.
The country guise is then to devise
    Some gambols of Christmas play,
Wherein the young men do the best that they can
    To drive the cold winter away.

Songs relating to festivals and customs possess a special interest not adequately measured by their poetical pretensions ; and such good old carols as the "Twelve Days of Christmas," although now banished to the nursery, were formerly great favourites, and were played as forfeit games, each player in turn having to repeat the gifts of a day, incurring a forfeit for every mistake. The music of the first and last verses only are given, and it will be observed that each verse not only celebrates the gifts of each day, which are accumulative, and requires a good memory on the part of those who make their first attempt in it as a forfeit game. The tune for each gift is the same in all repetitions, so that the last verse contains the whole of the music.

 

The first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A partridge on a pear tree.

The second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Three French hens, two turtle doves, and A partridge on a pear tree.

The fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Four colly birds, three French liens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Five gold rings, four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying. five gold rings, Four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming, six g
eese a-laving, Five gold rings, four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, five
gold rings, Four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, Five gold rings, four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying, five gold rings, Four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear
tree.

The eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, Nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, Five gold rings, four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

The twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve lords a-leaping, eleven ladies dancing, Ten pipers playing, nine drummers drumming, Eights maids-a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, five gold rings, Four colly birds, three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge on a pear tree.

This old carol was early in the century a favourite New Year's pastime in the North of England, but has almost died out of memory. Our copy of the music was originally collected by the late Mr. John Bell, of Gates head, about eighty years ago. [circa 1808]

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