Twelve Days of Christmas

Up Catalog

     The earliest printed version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is in a children's book, Mirth without Mischief, published in 1780. The song, however, is apparently much older than that, and was originally French rather than English. For example, the partridge was not introduced into England from France until the late 1770's.
     Some believe that the song is a sort of catechism or teaching tool for elements of the Catholic faith, but that idea has been challenged on several grounds, not least the fact that there is not evidence to demonstrate such a use. The "twelve days" are the days between Christmas and Epiphany, and refer to the custom of giving gifts on those days.
     For whatever reason the song exists in two versions. The two versions have the last four lines differing in order. One has nine drummers drumming, ten pipers piping, eleven ladies dancing, and twelve lords a-leaping, the other, nine ladies dancing, ten lords-a-leaping, eleven pipers piping, and twelve drummers drumming. A further variation is "nine ladies waiting." The "calling birds" of day four shown on stamps from Christmas Island, and The Gambia are actually "colly birds" as on the souvenir sheet from Guernsey.
      Several counties have issued stamps for Christmas based on the song. Apart from the United States the countries are all from the British commonwealth.
      Both the United States and New Zealand issued stamps based on the first verse, "my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree."

SCN 1445                 SCN 634

    New Zealand also issued a set of three stamp based on the first three verses of the song, and Ireland issued a single stamp based on the same three verses.

SCN 854

> SCN 855          SCN 856

SCN 703

     Great Britain issued a set of 6 stamps with two verses on each stamp except for the first stamp which has only one and the third stamp which has three..

SCN 821

SCN 822

SCN 823

SCN 824

SCN 825

SCN 826