On the surface, it seems like a silly song, but it digs deep into religion and persecution.
Though historians aren’t sure when exactly this song came about, they can trace it back to the 16th century, when Protestant Christians and Roman Catholics were being persecuted. Songfacts tells us each gift represents a hidden biblical meaning:
The ‘partridge in a pear tree’ is Jesus Christ
The ‘two turtle doves’ are the Old and New Testaments
The ‘three French hens’ are the three virtues, faith, hope, and love
The ‘four calling birds’ are the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Five golden rings’ are the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch
‘Six geese a-laying’ refer to the six days of the Creation
Seven swans a-swimming’ are the seven sacraments
‘Eight maids a-milking’ are the eight Beatitudes
‘Nine ladies dancing’ are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
‘Ten lords a’ leaping’ are the Ten Commandments
‘Eleven pipers piping’ are the eleven faithful Apostles
‘Twelve drummers drumming’ are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.