Behind the 12 Days of Christmas

Christmas Classic is a Literary & Cultural Symbolism Goldmine Where Learning Just Keeps Coming!

There is just so much to the 12 Days of Christmas song beyond the 2 turtle doves.

By the end of the popular Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the lucky (and truly loved) gift recipient has accumulated quite a holiday haul – nearly 400 gifts have come their way, and with quite a stunning amount of variety, too! Items as varied as gold rings, dancing men, and partridges have been given in bulk in the name of Christmas – but why?

Families can discover the roots and possible hidden meanings of the gifts described in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with local author Dr. Thomas Bernard! On Saturday, December 13th at 2:30pm, the Jones Library in Amherst, MA, will host a talk by Dr. Bernard, who will lead participants in an exploration of the possible secondary symbolic meanings of each of the gifts described in the song’s lyrics. A professor Emeritus of Psychology at Springfield College, Dr. Bernard’s work on the subject grew simply out of sheer curiosity about the odd combination of items described by the song, and he is the author of The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Mystery and The Meaning.

While the event is free and open to the public, it is likely best suited for older students who have an interest in literary and cultural symbolism, and/or the Middle Ages. According to Dr. Bernard, the immense hodge-podge of items gifted to a loved one in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” might actually stand as symbols for a map that pilgrims might have used during the Middle Ages to trek from England to Jerusalem. Dr. Bernard’s work is well-researched, meaning that this theory could quite likely be true – and, if it is, we’ve been singing about traveling across Europe to Israel for centuries without knowing it!

Students who have some pre-existing knowledge of the history of the Middle Ages will enjoy learning about the role of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” during the 13th and 14th centuries. Additionally, learning about the lyrics’ roots is a great way to explore the use of coded messages during times of cultural, religious, or racial oppression. The use of a song to cryptically convey messages is a practice found across cultures throughout history – appearing in particular in American history amongst enslaved Africans during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Not only is exploration of the lyrics’ roots a fascinating lens through which to learn about European history, it’s also an opportunity to explore the idea of literary symbolism – the use of words or images to represent a place, idea, person, etc. Budding writers can use the event as an opportunity to examine the subtle symbolism that the lyrics include, and will perhaps be inspired to utilize symbolism as a device in their own writing.

The Jones Library is located at 43 Amity Street in Amherst. For more information about the event, contact the library at 413-259-3090.

[Photo credit: (cc) peonyandthistle]

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