The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

An excerpt from an article by G. L. Kittredge, "Ballads and Songs," pp. 365-367, found in The Journal of American Folklore, published by the American Folklore Society, Vol. 30, No. 117 (Jul. - Sep., 1917), pp. 283-369. The link is to a PDF of this article at JSTOR. Vol. 30 is also available at Google Books.

The article has been reformatted by the editor to make it easier to read as opposed to the original four paragraphs.

See: Notes on the Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The text here printed is worth notice because of its long period of demonstrable oral transmission in America. It was taken down by G. L. Kittredge, Dec. 30, 1877, from the singing of Mrs. Sarah G. Lewis of Barnstable, Mass. (born in Boston, 1799). Mrs. Lewis learned the song when a young girl from her grandmother, Mrs. Sarah Gorham.

1. The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Some part of a juniper tree,
And some part of a juniper tree.

2. The second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two French hens,
And some part of a juniper tree,
And some part of a juniper tree.

3. The third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three turkle doves, two French hens,
And some part, etc.

4. The fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Four colly birds, three turkle doves, etc.

5. The fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five gold rings, etc.

6. The sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying, etc.

7. The seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming, etc.

8. The eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight ... [Footnote: "Forgotten by the singer."]
     Ed. One common line is "Eight boys a-singing."

9. The ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Nine lambs a-bleating, etc.

10. The tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten ladies dancing, etc.

11. The eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eleven lords a-leading, etc.

12. The twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve bells a-ringing, etc.

In a copy from Quincy, Mass., sent to Child March 30, 1881 (Child MSS., ii, 190-194; cf. xxi, 4, article 6 a), the series is,

  1. a partridge and a pear-tree,
  2. two turtle doves,
  3. three French hens,
  4. four colly birds,
  5. five gold rings,
  6. six geese a-laying,
  7. seven swans a-singing,
  8. eight ladies dancing,
  9. nine fiddlers fiddling,
  10. ten rams a-bleating(?),
  11. eleven stags a-leaping,
  12. twelve bulls a-roaring.

In a Massachusetts text from Miss Julia M. Maynard the series runs,

  1. a part of a juniper tree,
  2. two turtle doves,
  3. three French hens,
  4. four Cornish birds,
  5. five gold rings,
  6. six geese a-laying,
  7. seven swans a-swimming,
  8. eight herds a-grazing,
  9. nine ladies dancing,
  10. ten fiddlers fiddling,
  11. eleven golden pippins,
  12. twelve silver florins.

In another, communicated a few years ago by Mr. J. S. Snoddy, as "sung by Mrs. Uriah Holt, Andover, Mass., 95 years old," we have,

  1. a partridge upon a fair tree,
  2. two turtle-doves,
  3. three collie birds,
  4. four American hens,
  5. five gold rings,
  6. six geese a-laying,
  7. seven swans a-swimming,
  8. eight ladies dancing,
  9. nine lords a-leaping,
  10. ten bells a-beating,
  11. eleven hounds a-howling,
  12. twelve knights a-riding.

See "Family Songs," compiled by Rosa S. Allen (1899), for still another Massachusetts text. [See: Philip Barry, The Twelve Days of Christmas (1905)]

In a variant taken down in 1916 by Miss Loraine Wyman in Pulaski County, Kentucky, there are but seven gifts,

  1. a partridge in a pear-tree,
  2. two turtle-doves,
  3. three French hens,
  4. four corn boys,
  5. five gold rings,
  6. six geese a-laying, and
  7. seven swans a-swimming.

In a full Missouri copy in Belden's collection we have

Compare Barry, No. 67.

For English and Scottish versions see

 There is a similar French song in the "Revue des Traditions Populaires," 7:34-36 (with tune).

In a broadside of about 1800 or perhaps earlier (Angus, Printer), entitled "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (Harvard College Library, 25242.5.5.149, No. 15), the series is,

  1. a partridge in a pear-tree,
  2. two turtle-doves,
  3. three French hens,
  4. four colly birds,
  5. five gold rings,
  6. six geese a laying,
  7. seven swans a swimming,
  8. eight maids a milking,
  9. nine drummers drumming,
  10. ten pipers playing,
  11. eleven ladies dancing,
  12. twelve lords a leaping.

The following Shetland version, which resembles Chambers's text, is in the Child MSS., iii, 17 (Harvard College Library). It was sent to Child in 1880 by Mr. Arthur Laurenson, who received it from Mr. R. Sinclair, Jr., of Shetland, in whose handwriting it is.

Come now let me see
Who learns this carol and carries it for me.
The king sent his ladie the first Yule day
One peeping. [Footnote: "That is, papyngo, parrot."]

[The series is given in reverse order by Mr. Sinclair: ]

The End

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