Today’s factismal: There are six types of bird in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.
Everyone knows the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. That’s no surprise, given that it has been a perennial favorite since 1780. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is played approximately twelve zillion times in versions ranging from the traditional to the bizarre. But what many don’t know is that the song is based on the traditional period of Christmastide (also known as Yuletide).
This twelve-day period stretches from Christmas day (the first day of Christmas) to January 5 (Twelfth Night) and culminates on Epiphany (the day when the Magi found Jesus). The days are:
- December 25 – Christmas (A partridge in a pear tree)
- December 26 – Feast of St. Stephen (Two turtle doves)
- December 27 – Feast of St. John the Evangelist (Three French hens)
- December 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents (Four colly birds)
- December 29 – Feast of St. Thomas Becket (Five gold rings)
- December 30 – Feast of St. Anysia (Six geese-a-laying)
- December 31 – Feast of St. Sylvester (Seven swans-a-swimming)
- January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord (Eight maids-a-milking)
- January 2 – Octave-Day of St. Stephen (Nine ladies dancing)
- January 3 – Octave-Day of St. John (Ten lords-a-leaping)
- January 4 – Octave-Day of the Holy Innocents (Eleven pipers piping)
- January 5 – Vigil of the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelve drummers drumming)
- January 6 – The Feast of the Epiphany (Christmas is over. Time to pay the bills!)
If you kept track of the birds, you’ll know that the song mentions six different types of bird and a total of 23 birds (assuming that you don’t count the endless repetitions; if you count those, then there are 184 – imagine the mess!).
But what you might not know is that there is another grand tradition that also spans the twelve days of Christmas: the Christmas Bird Count! Run for the past 114 years by the Audubon Society, this event tries to tally all of the birds in the world so that researchers know which ones are doing well and which need help. If you’d like to take part, fly on over to: