If you were to buy one set of each of the gifts featured in the popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” it would only set you back $27,673.22 this year.
That may seem like a steep price for a variety of birds, a handful of golden rings, and to temporarily hire drummers and milk maids, but the increase is actually the most modest the so-called “Christmas Price Index” has seen since 2002.
In Catholic media each year comes the story that this carol was a code to teach Catholic doctrines. For example, this CNA story:
The song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English Christmas carol. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember. To fit the number scheme, when you reach number 9, representing the Fruits of the Holy Ghost, the originator combined 6 to make 3, taking the 6 fruits that were similar: the fruit in each parenthesis is the that was not named separately. There are actually Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost.
The "True Love" one hears in the song is not a smitten boy or girlfriend but Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. The partridge in the pear tree also represents Him because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators.
While I'm happy that this story may draw attention to the history of Catholicism in England during the long period of persecution, it just isn't likely to be true at all. There is no documentation for it and except for the crucial number 7, which the purported code makers don't take advantage of all at all and which is also incorrect, and number 9, which is incorrect (see below), nearly all of these points of doctrine would have been shared by Anglicans and Catholics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Again from the CNA article:
The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]
The four calling [should be collie] birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]
The five golden rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man's fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior. [AKA, the Pentateuch] [Catholics and Anglicans agree]
The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]
Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit-----Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy. [Catholic list is wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord]
The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes [according to St. Matthew's Gospel]. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]
Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit-----Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity]. [Catholics number 12 not nine]
The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.[Catholics and Anglicans agree]
The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Apostles.[Catholics and Anglicans agree] [This seems like a filler, since the remaining Apostles chose Matthias as Judas Iscariot's replacement.]
The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles' Creed. [Catholics and Anglicans agree]
If this truly were a Catholic Catechism, the Seven Swans A-Swimming should have represented the Seven Sacraments and the Seven Sacraments only (some other interpretations list the sacraments too but not exclusively). The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England defined only two Sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion, so this would have been an important point of distinction between Catholics and Anglicans in that era. Also, the Catholic Church recognizes 12 (twelve) Fruits of the Holy Spirit, not just nine: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-control, and Chastity.