Anyone familiar with the Batman of the comics knows that one of the Caped Crusader’s most repeated monikers is that of “The World’s Greatest Detective.” How did the Dark Knight earn this lofty appellation? Well, just watch his magnificent mind go to work solving one of The Riddler’s stumpers in this clip…
A stunning bit of analytical aptitude. But riddle me this. Could even the mental might of the Masked Manhunter discover the alleged secret Catholic messages buried within the lyrics of The 12 Days of Christmas? What’s that, you say? You’ve never heard the rumors that all those lords a-leaping and pipers piping were in fact an encoded message to help persecuted papists catechize their children in 18th century England? Well, that’s the theory which was put forth in the late 1970s by Hugh D. McKellar, a Canadian English teacher and part-time hymnologist, and later built upon by Fr. Hal Stockert in the 80s. For those without an official papal decoder ring, the hidden message is as follows:
Partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
Two turtle doves = the Old and New Testaments
Three French hens = faith, hope and love
Four calling birds = the four gospels
Five golden rings = the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament
Six geese a-laying = the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight maids a-milking = the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten lords a-leaping = the ten commandments.
Eleven pipers piping = the eleven faithful disciples.
Twelve drummers drumming = the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed
Amazing. Cunning. Crafty. And probably a complete myth. Historian Gerry Bowler, author of The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, notes that “there are a number of clues that give it away as a tall tale but most important is the fact that none of the supposedly secret meanings is distinctly Catholic. None of the twelve codes would have been considered anything but normal Christian orthodoxy by the Protestants which ruled England at the time, so it would not need to have been imparted clandestinely. If any of the meanings had been about the special status for Catholics accorded by Mary during her brief rule (1553-1558) or the theology of the Mass or papal monarchy, etc. then the story might be more believable. In fact ‘the 12 Days’ is just one of a number of similar counting songs found in almost every European language.”
So, bummer, it looks like The 12 Days of Christmas was really just meant to be a simple counting game instead of a secret teaching document. But, hey, we’re the Catholic Church, we can always change that with a bit of inculturation can’t we? Hey kids, come gather around the Yule log, it’s quiz time!