A Partridge in a Pear Tree

by Fr. Christian Mathis on December 26, 2011

Every year it is a challenge to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. One large reason is that in our American culture people generally begin the secular celebration of Christmas on Thanksgiving Day and end on Christmas Day. For Christians, who have been waiting in anticipation during the season of Advent, Christmas has only just begun. On the Christian liturgical calendar, Christmas begins on December 25 and continues through the feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

One of my favorite Christmas songs has always been The Twelve Days of Christmas. There is a lack of agreement it seems as to which day is the first day of Christmas, some saying the first day is the 25th, which would make the twelfth day Jan 5 while others say the first day is the day after Christmas which makes the twelfth day Epiphany. Since I did not write yesterday, I am going to accept the second group’s claim for the sake of this next series of posts.

In recent years I have been the recipient of an email that makes the claim that the song The Twelve Days of Christmas has its origin as a catechism song for Catholics during their time of persecution in England from the 16th through 19th centuries. While there is no written evidence to substantiate this claim, I see no reason why Catholics wouldn’t use the song as such. We as Catholics have a long history of seeing hidden meaning in literature, music and art.

So let’s begin with the Christian meaning of “a partridge in a pear tree”. The legend surrounding this song would say this is a symbol of Jesus Christ and a reference to the tree of life that is the cross.

It seems very appropriate to me on this first day of Christmas to reflect upon the mystery of the crucifixion as we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, the protomartyr. Stephen, like so many saints, gave witness to the saving power of Christ’s death and resurrection by suffering death himself while sharing the faith with others. Stephen has always struck me as a powerful witness to Christ in that he mirrors our savior in praying to God for the forgiveness of his persecutors, even as they stoned him.

How do you plan to give witness to Christ during these next twelve days of Christmas?

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