We all know that secular song, The Twelve Days of Christmas with the “partridige in a pear tree.” We get a lot of things wrong about it. It is not “four calling birds.” It is colley birds—a type of blackbird common in England.
Neither is it true that the song was a code word way for Catholics in Protestant England to still carry on their faith. It is possible, however, that The Twelve Days of Christmas has been confused with (or is a transformation of) a song called A New Dial (also known as “In Those Twelve Days”), which dates to at least 1625 and assigns religious meanings to each of the twelve days of Christmas. Here are the words to that lesser known song:
What are they that are but one?
We have but one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne.
What are they which are but two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true.
What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity.
What are they which are but four
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ’s birth, life, death which do declare.
What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign.
What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long.
What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man’s soul to crown.
What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven.
What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven’s nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears.
What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save.
What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus’ sake.
What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God’s son;Twelve make our creed. The Dial’s done.