One of the most played songs around this time of year is the 12 Days of Christmas. It’s often sung by adults and children and its repetitive words and melody make it rather catchy and easy to sing. That said, the only confusing part comes when one tries to imagine actually getting all of the gifts described. As we sing the song, our true love spends the first eight days giving us a wide variety of live birds. This onslaught of birds only pauses for a moment on Day 5 when our lover surprises us with five golden rings, one for each finger of our favorite hand. On Day 8-12, however, things take a perfectly bizarre turn, as having run out of birds, our true love loses it entirely and starts gifting actual people. Though birds can be seen as pets, one doesn’t expect to receive dancing ladies unless drunk in a bar on a 21st birthday. So clearly, our companion is a bit crazy, confirmed by the act of then forgetting each day that we’ve already received those lovely, odd, and somewhat inappropriate gifts and giving them to us over and over again.
This little song has always intrigued me and even as a kid I tried to understand what the heck was going on. Though at first it seems we’re getting only two turtle doves, by the end of the song, we’ve actually received a ridiculous 22 doves. In truth, as our amnesiac continues to bestow the same gifts on us day after day, we end up with 184 birds and can only wonder why an aviary wasn’t even considered in the list of thoughtful gifts. On the bright side, we did get 40 gold rings that I’m sure might provide enough funds, if sold, to purchase one. But that won’t at all help us in housing the 140 maids, dancers, leaping lords, pipers, and drummers. Though, blissfully, our true love thought about the drummers at the last moment so there are only 12, which probably won’t even make enough noise to drown out the birds and pipers. One can only imagine that this song is indeed about true love and that, in the end, it’s often only the thought that counts.
But as bizarre as this little diddy is if you stop to question it realistically, it doesn’t stop me from joining in the chorus each year. I’ll happily hop in with others, singing without care, as we receive a ridiculous menagerie of inexplicable gifts and enjoy each and every one. What I love about this season is that it’s rich with traditions that don’t always make perfect sense. Songs and stories that are enjoyed over and over again with glee, never stopping to question why. It’s a magical time of doing things that generations before us did as well. In this way, we’re all reconnected to our wonderful present life and a life long before us filled with equal bits of good cheer. That, to me, is the greatest gift of the year. It’s one you don’t open with your hands, but simply with your heart. A moment of love, hope and joy that can start with something as oddly simple as two turtle doves.
About the Doodlewash
Da Vinci Paint Co.: Yellow Ochre, Red Rose Deep, Terra Cotta, Leaf Green, Cobalt Blue and Payne’s Gray. Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with sepia ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book.
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!