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Updated 01/22/2020

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days that make up the Christmas season, starting with Christmas Day). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin.

The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who introduced the familiar prolongation of the verse "five gold rings" (now often "five golden rings"). Austin (March 30, 1872  April 10, 1952) was an English baritone singer, a musical teacher and composer in the period 190530.

In the transcription below, it is necessary to repeat lines 6 and 7 for verses 6 through 12.

 

Lyrics

The earliest known version of the lyrics was published in London under the title "The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin's Ball", as part of a 1780 children's book, Mirth without Mischief. Subsequent versions have shown considerable variation.

The lyrics given here are from Frederic Austin's 1909 publication that established the current form of the carol. The first three verses run, in full, as follows:

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Subsequent verses follow the same pattern, each adding one new gift and repeating all the earlier gifts so that each verse is one line longer than its predecessor:

         4 calling birds

         5 gold rings

         6 geese a-laying

         7 swans a-swimming

         8 maids a-milking

         9 ladies dancing

         10 lords a-leaping

         11 pipers piping

         12 drummers drumming