I don’t know if the Twelve Days of Christmas
are still a custom in the UK
(and perhaps Canada, New Zealand, Australia … and the USA)
but I never heard of them in the Dordogne!
And yet, the omniscient Wikipedia tells me it is a French custom adopted by Britain and formalized as late as the beginning of the 20th century. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song) ). There is something knocking in my mind about “La Perdriole” but it may well be associated with “La Périchole” by Jacques Offenbach, which has nothing at all to do with this. BUT, it seems that we used to make a chain with my cousins upon the same principle as the Twelve Days of Christmas, only it was for the months of the year. All this is very confused and meddled.
So, what do we find in these Twelve Days:
- a Partridge in a Pear Tree
- two Turtle Doves
- three French Hens (nota: why French?)
- four Calling Birds
- five Gold Rings
- six Geese a-Laying
- seven Swans a-Swimming
- eight Maids a-Milking
- nine Ladies Dancing
- ten Lords a-Leaping
- eleven Pipers Piping
- twelve Drummers Drumming.
I can see Mother smiling at the idea of the Drummers Drumming, and she would enjoy so much being the True Love to give twelve Cherubim or Seraphim-like little boys each his drum to entertain their respective parents…
Otherwise, when I close my eyes, I visualize twelve days during the reign of Henry VIII or, possibly, Elizabeth I, with loud and playful merrymaking although we know now that these times were dangerous for the “greats”, with possible beheadings, and more than often famine and cold ridden for the poor. But TV and films have done their jobs and have idealized times long passed.
Should we be waiting for Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”?
Or an English XVIIIth century is still a possible setting in my mind’s eye. I look upon a rural Britain with the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution but still in its swaddles. It is a pre-lapsarian England, and it is before the contamination of the French ideas of Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
At home, the first day of Christmas would have been spent around the tree and playing with the new toys.
Or spending time in the kitchen. There were the aromas of cinnamon; dried slices of oranges and lemons, pommanders, fresh baking for family coming to tea, ham slowly cooked and glazed in honey, curry made with the remainings of the Christmas turkey, mince pies, lots of laugh.
Yes, lots of laugh and movement, doors opened and closed, galloping in the corridors, loud voices, giggling, simpering, wailing when a toy was taken from the arms of a new mama (my sister and a doll), and the loudest voice from Father asking if, for goodness’ sake, there could be a little quiet in this house in which he would hear himself think!
I would be found in the kitchen in my special corner, a small space with a straight wooden chair, totally uncomfortable, in between the large chimney place and the first fridge that had belonged to my grand-parents. I was reading, absorbing words and sentences as well as smells and conversations around me. All this had a taste of Christmas. People would come to make me go out and run and move and play. I sticked to my uncomfortable chair, with a stack of books at my feet. Why would I have had to run and move when I had such worlds at the tips of my fingers?
And that was the First Day of Christmas
Without a Partridge but with Pear Trees in the orchard.
Jesus College Choir (Cambridge – UK)