Twelve Days of Christmas “Three French Hens”

Just three days left until Christmas day is finally here. From Lords a-leaping to five gold rings, Midphase has covered them all. Read on for our interpretation of ‘Three French Hens.’
Many believe that the meaning behind the three hens that were gifted on the third day actually represent faith, hope and love, which is a beautiful concept during the holiday season. The world can always use more of these essential life ingredients. But in tradition of the last eight days, we need to dig a little bit further.
Throughout the years there have been different versions of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, but the three French hens have remained a constant in the lyrics. That is unless you go all the way back to before the poem was even had a song to be sung in 1842 as published in The Popular Rhymes of Scotland as a festive poem. The format of the poem is the same with each day adding to the next, but the gifts are drastically different.
This particular version’s last day (thirteenth Yule day) reads:
The king sent his lady on the thirteenth Yule day,
Three stalks o’ merry corn,
Three maids a-merry dancing,
Three hinds a-merry hunting,
An Arabian baboon,
Three swans a-merry swimming,
Three ducks a-merry laying,
A bull that was brown,
Three goldspinks,
Three starlings,
A goose that was grey,
Three plovers,
Three partridges,
A pippin go aye;
Wha learns my carol and carries it away?
As you can see, this is an almost completely different song. The first noticeable difference is that there are actually thirteen days of ‘Yule’ as opposed to the usual twelve. In addition to this, there is a strange obsession with the number three. Corn stalks, dancing maids, hunting hinds, swans, ducks, goldspinks, starlings, plovers and partridges all come in sets of three.
Some of the gifts are not commonly known to Americans, but with a little digging I discovered that a ‘hind’ is actually a female red deer. ‘Goldspinks’ are actually goldfinches, a small finch common to Europe with a black and white head with a red face and black and yellow wings. ‘Plovers’ are also birds of the wading variety that include 66 distinct species.
So it seems that even the earliest versions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” also featured a fascination with birds. Including birds in holiday festivities actually dates back to the earliest recorded English carol in 1410. This ‘flight-ful’ compilation is associated with the idea that there are a plethora of birds mentioned in the Holy Bible. Monks were known to be major contributors to early carols using the Bible for inspiration.
Christmas carols haven’t always been such a hit. In England between 1649 and 1660, carols were banned by Oliver Cromwell who believed that Christmas should be a solemn rather than happy celebration. The Protestants, led by Martin Luther, were forced to gather their joyful songs and flee to avoid persecution from the Catholic Church.
This did not stop the power of these songs as they were sung in secret and the tradition lived on through the ages until the first American carol was written in 1649 by John de Brebeur, called Jesus is Born. From that point on, the rest is history.
Christmas carols have held a special place in the hearts of Christmas lovers for hundreds of years and will continue to do so for generations to come. The holiday season represents a combination of the old and the new. Ancient holiday traditions are added to every year and passed down to our children to take on as their own.
Midphase can help you create your own family website to allow distant loved ones to stay in touch from around the globe to share memories old and new. Be sure to read tomorrow as we count down the last days of the holiday season with two turtle doves in our version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Happy third day of Christmas from Midphase!

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