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 | By Michelle DiFranco

The Gift of Christ in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’

We hear it every year. The lyrics can seem a bit strange. It’s repetitive.

And there are far more beautiful Christmas songs to occupy space on your holiday playlist. But did you know that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” may have a deeper symbolic meaning? That doesn’t make it any less repetitive, but it does make it more interesting!

Both religious and secular sources suggest that the song was written somewhere between the 16th and 19th centuries when Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. According to this narrative, the Christmas carol was written using secular imagery (of the time) to help catechize children in the faith. The “true love” mentioned in each verse does not refer to a smitten young man or woman, but our Lord Jesus Christ, and the “me” represents any baptized Catholic.

The “partridge in a pear tree” is also Christ, since that species of bird is willing to sacrifice its life to protect its young by faking an injury to draw predators away.

The two turtle doves stand for the Old and New Testaments. The three French hens represent faith, hope and love. The four calling birds are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The five golden rings symbolize the first five books of the Old Testament. The six geese a-laying recall for the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids a-milking signify the eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. The 10 lords a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments. The 11 pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful Apostles. The 12 drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

So in a nod to the Christian symbolism this carol represents, and to keep our focus on Christ during this holy season, we offer this “Partridge in a Pear Tree” dessert for your Christmas gatherings. Enjoy!

Michelle Sessions DiFranco is a designer and the busy mom of three children.

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Partridge in a Pear Tree Dessert

  • 4 medium/large pears peeled, cored and halved (firmer variety or slightly under-ripe)
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 teaspoons chilled butter cut into tiny cubes
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pecan pieces
  • Store-bought pie crust

For the partridge, roll out pastry crust and cut into bird shapes (see photo reference). Bake according to package instructions (or until light golden brown) and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 7x10 baking dish with non-stick spray. In a small dish, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Set the pears (sliced side up) in the pan. Combine the lemon juice and vanilla and brush over the pears (to prevent browning). Sprinkle with brown sugar mixture and spread the cubed pieces of butter evenly on top of the pears.

Bake for 30 minutes sliced side up. Turn the pears sliced side down and baste/spoon the caramel over the top of the pears to prevent browning. Bake for an additional 20-40 minutes (depending on variety of pear – check doneness with fork). Top off with remaining caramel sauce and crushed pecans. Serve with vanilla ice cream and partridge pastry.