The Twelve Days of Christmas (song)
|"The Twelve Days of Christmas"|
|Roud No. 68|
|Composer(s)||Traditional with additions by Frederic Austin|
|Language||English; may be French in origin|
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days that comprise the Christmas season starting with Christmas Day). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 68. The tunes of collected versions vary. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse "five gold rings".
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by "my true love" on one of the twelve days of Christmas. There are many variations in the lyrics. The lyrics given here are from Frederic Austin's 1909 publication that first established the current form of the carol. The first three verses run, in full, as follows:
On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me
a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
On the Second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
On the Third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French Hens,
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
Subsequent verses follow the same pattern, each adding one new gift and repeating all the earlier gifts, so that each verse is one line longer than its predecessor:
- 4 Calling Birds
- 5 Gold Rings
- 6 Geese a-Laying
- 7 Swans a-Swimming
- 8 Maids a-Milking
- 9 Ladies Dancing
- 10 Lords a-Leaping
- 11 Pipers Piping
- 12 Drummers Drumming
Variations of the lyrics
The earliest known version of the lyrics was published in London under the title "The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin's Ball", as part of a 1780 children's book, Mirth without Mischief. Subsequent versions have shown considerable variation:
- In the earliest versions, the word "On" is not present at the beginning of each verse—for example, the first verse begins simply "The first day of Christmas". "On" was added in Austin's 1909 version, and became very popular thereafter.
- In the early versions "my true love sent" me the gifts. However, a 20th-century variant has "my true love gave to me"; this wording has become particularly common in North America.
- The 1780 version has "four colly birds"—"colly" being a regional English expression for "black". This wording must have been opaque to many even in the 19th century: "canary birds", "colour'd birds", "curley birds", and "corley birds" are found in its place. Frederic Austin's 1909 version, which introduced the now-standard melody, also altered the fourth day's gift to four "calling" birds, and this variant has become the most popular, although "colly" is still found.
- The "five gold rings" may become "five golden rings", especially in North America. In the standard melody, this change enables singers to fit one syllable per musical note.
- The gifts associated with the final four days are often reordered. For example, the pipers may be on the ninth day rather than the eleventh.
For ease of comparison with Austin's 1909 version given above:
(a) differences in wording, ignoring capitalisation and punctuation, are indicated in italics;
(b) items that do not appear at all in Austin's version are indicated in bold italics.
|My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear-tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Maids a milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping|
|Angus, 1774–1825||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Maids a milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping|
|Halliwell, 1842||My mother sent to me||Partridge in a pear-tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Canary birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping||Ships a sailing||Ladies spinning||Bells ringing|
|Rimbault, c. 1846||My mother sent to me||Parteridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Canary birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping||Ships a sailing||Ladies spinning||Bells ringing|
|Halliwell, 1853||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Swans a swimming||Maids a milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping|
|Salmon, 1855||My true love sent to me||Partridge upon a pear-tree||Turtle-doves||French hens||Collie birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leaping|
|Husk, 1864||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear-tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colley birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leaping
|Hughes, 1864||My true love sent to me||Partridge and a pear tree||Turtle-doves||Fat hens||Ducks quacking||Hares running||"and so on"||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|Cliftonian, 1867||My true-love sent to me||Partridge in a pear-tree||Turtle-doves||French hens||Colley birds||Gold rings||Ducks a-laying||Swans swimming||Hares a-running||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leaping||Badgers baiting||Bells a-ringing|
|Clark, 1875||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colour'd birds||Gold rings||Geese laying||Swans swimming||Maids milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords leaping|
|Kittredge, 1877 (1917)||My true love sent to me||Some part of a juniper tree, And some part of a juniper tree||French hens||Turtle doves||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||[forgotten by the singer]||Lambs a-bleating||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leading||Bells a-ringing|
|Henderson, 1879||My true love sent to me||Partridge upon a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Curley birds||Gold rings||Geese laying||Swans swimming||Maids milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||—||—|
|Stokoe, 1888||My true love sent to me||Partridge on a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Drummers drumming||Pipers piping||Ladies dancing||Lords a leaping|
|Scott, 1892||My true love brought to me||Very pretty peacock upon a pear tree||Turtle-doves||French hens||Corley birds||Gold rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Pipers playing||Drummers drumming||Lads a-louping||Ladies dancing|
|Cole, 1900||My true love sent to me||Parteridge upon a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Colly birds||Gold rings||Geese a laying||Squabs a swimming||Hounds a running||Bears a beating||Cocks a crowing||Lords a leaping||Ladies a dancing|
|Sharp, 1905||My true Love sent to me||Goldie ring, and the part of a June apple tree||Turtle doves, and the part of a mistletoe bough||French hens||Colley birds||Goldie rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Boys a-singing||Ladies dancing||Asses racing||Bulls a-beating||Bells a-ringing|
|Austin, 1909||My true love sent to me||Partridge in a Pear Tree||Turtle Doves||French Hens||Calling Birds||Gold Rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Ladies dancing||Lords a-leaping||Pipers piping||Drummers drummming|
|Swortzell, 1966||My true love gave to me||Partridge in a pear tree||Turtle doves||French hens||Collie birds||Golden rings||Geese a-laying||Swans a-swimming||Maids a-milking||Pipers piping||Drummers drumming||Lords a-leaping||Ladies dancing|
In Scotland, early in the 19th century, the recitation began: "The king sent his lady on the first Yule day, | A popingo-aye [parrot]; | Wha learns my carol and carries it away?" The succeeding gifts were two partridges, three plovers, a goose that was grey, three starlings, three goldspinks, a bull that was brown, three ducks a-merry laying, three swans a-merry swimming, an Arabian baboon, three hinds a-merry hunting, three maids a-merry dancing, three stalks o' merry corn.
In the Faroe Islands, there is a comparable counting Christmas song. The gifts include: one feather, two geese, three sides of meat, four sheep, five cows, six oxen, seven dishes, eight ponies, nine banners, ten barrels, eleven goats, twelve men, thirteen hides, fourteen rounds of cheese and fifteen deer. These were illustrated in 1994 by local cartoonist Óli Petersen (born 1936) on a series of two stamps issued by the Faroese Philatelic Office.
The French folk song "La Perdriole" ("The Partridge") is a cumulative song with the same kind of lyrics and a similar (but slightly different) melody. One variant iterates over the 12 months of the year ("Le premier mois d'l'année", etc...). Another version may be found in the Rondes et chansons de France, Vol. 10. It iterates over the first 12 days of May ("Au premier jour de Mai", etc...)
Origins and meaning
The exact origins and the meaning of the song are unknown, but it is highly probable that it originated from a children's memory and forfeit game.
The twelve days in the song are the twelve days starting with Christmas Day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (December 26) (Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day, as being the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr), to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, or the Twelfth Day). Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking."
The best known English version was first printed in English in 1780 in a little book intended for children, Mirth without Mischief, as a Twelfth Night "memories-and-forfeits" game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet. One hundred years later, Lady Gomme, a collector of folktales and rhymes, described how it used to be played every Twelfth Day night before eating mince pies and twelfth cake.
Salmon, writing from Newcastle, claimed in 1855 that the song "[had] been, up to within twenty years, extremely popular as a schoolboy's Christmas chant".
Husk, writing in 1864, stated:
This piece is found on broadsides printed at Newcastle at various periods during the last hundred and fifty years. On one of these sheets, nearly a century old, it is entitled "An Old English Carol," but it can scarcely be said to fall within that description of composition, being rather fitted for use in playing the game of "Forfeits," to which purpose it was commonly applied in the metropolis upwards of forty years since. The practice was for one person in the company to recite the first three lines; a second, the four following; and so on; the person who failed in repeating her portion correctly being subjected to some trifling forfeit.
[A] cry for forfeits arose. So the party sat down round Mabel on benches brought out from under the table, and Mabel began, --
The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a partridge and a pear-tree;
The second day of Christmas my true love sent to me two turtle-doves, a partridge, and a pear-tree;
The third day of Christmas my true love sent to me three fat hens, two turtle-doves, a partridge, and a pear-tree;
The fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me four ducks quacking, three fat hens, two turtle-doves, a partridge, and a pear-tree;
The fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me five hares running, four ducks quacking, three fat hens, two turtle-doves, a partridge, and a pear-tree.
And so on. Each day was taken up and repeated all round; and for every breakdown (except by little Maggie, who struggled with desperately earnest round eyes to follow the rest correctly, but with very comical results), the player who made the slip was duly noted down by Mabel for a forfeit.
"Twelve days of Christmas" was adapted from similar New Years' or spring French carols, of which at least three are known, all featuring a partridge, perdriz or perdriole, as the first gift. The pear tree appears in only the English version, but this could also indicate a French origin. According to Iona and Peter Opie, the red-legged (or French) partridge perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge and was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770. Cecil Sharp observed that "from the constancy in English, French, and Languedoc versions of the 'merry little partridge,' I suspect that 'pear-tree' is really perdrix (Old French pertriz) carried into England"; and "juniper tree" in some English versions may have been "joli perdrix," [pretty partridge]. Sharp also suggests the adjective "French" in "three French hens", probably simply means "foreign".
In the northern counties of England, the song was often called the "Ten Days of Christmas", as there were only ten gifts. It was also known in Somerset, Dorsetshire, and elsewhere in England. The kinds of gifts vary in a number of the versions, some of them becoming alliterative tongue-twisters. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was also widely popular in the United States and Canada. It is mentioned in the section on "Chain Songs" in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Indiana University Studies, Vol. 5, 1935), p. 416.
There is evidence pointing to the North of England, specifically the area around Newcastle upon Tyne, as the origin of the carol. Husk, in the 1864 excerpt quoted above, stated that the carol was "found on broadsides printed at Newcastle at various periods during the last hundred and fifty years", i.e. from approximately 1714. In addition, many of the nineteenth century citations come from the Newcastle area.
Meanings of the gifts
According to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, "Suggestions have been made that the gifts have significance, as representing the food or sport for each month of the year. Importance [certainly has] long been attached to the Twelve Days, when, for instance, the weather on each day was carefully observed to see what it would be in the corresponding month of the coming year. Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate origin of the chant, it seems probable [that] the lines that survive today both in England and France are merely an irreligious travesty."
In 1979, a Canadian hymnologist, Hugh D. McKellar, published an article, "How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas" in which he suggested that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" lyrics were intended as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England (1558 until 1829). Three years later in 1982, Fr. Hal Stockert wrote an article (subsequently posted on-line in 1995) in which he suggested a similar possible use of the 12 gifts as part of a catechism. The possibility that the 12 gifts were used as a catechism during English and Irish Catholic penal times was also hypothesized in this same time period (1987 and 1992) by Fr. James Gilhooley, chaplain of Mount Saint Mary College of Newburgh, New York. Snopes.com, a website reviewing urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of unknown or questionable origin also gave an opinion on the meaning of the gifts when the authors suggested that the hypothesis of the 12 gifts of Christmas as a surreptitious catechism during the penal days was incorrect.
William S. Baring-Gould suggest that the presents sent on the first seven days were all birds—the "Five gold rings" were not actually gold rings, but refer to the five golden rings of the ringed pheasant. Others suggest the gold rings refer to "five goldspinks"—a goldspink being an old name for a Goldfinch; or even canaries. However, the 1780 publication includes an illustration that clearly depicts the "five gold rings" as being jewelry.
The now-standard melody for the carol was published in 1909 by Novello & Co.. English composer Frederic Austin fitted the words to a traditional melody, to which he added his own two-bar motif for "Five gold rings". Many of the decisions Austin made with regard to the lyrics subsequently became widespread:
- The initial "on" at the beginning of each verse.
- The use of "calling birds", rather than "colly birds", on the fourth day.
- The ordering of the final four verses.
The time signature of this song is not constant, unlike most popular music. This irregular meter perhaps reflects the song's folk origin. The introductory lines, such as "On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me", are made up of two 4/4 bars, while most of the lines naming gifts receive one 3/4 bar per gift with the exception of "Five gold(en) rings," which receives two 4/4 bars, "Two turtle doves" getting a 4/4 bar with "And a" on its fourth beat and "Partridge in a pear tree" getting two 4/4 bars of music. In most versions, a 4/4 bar of music immediately follows "Partridge in a pear tree." "On the" is found in that bar on the 4th (pickup) beat for the next verse. The successive bars of three for the gifts surrounded by bars of four give the song its hallmark "hurried" quality.
The second to fourth verses' melody is different from that of the fifth to twelfth verses. Before the fifth verse (when "five gold(en) rings" is first sung), the melody, using solfege, is "sol re mi fa re" for the fourth to second items, and this same melody is thereafter sung for the twelfth to sixth items. However, the melody for "four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves" changes from this point, differing from the way these lines were sung in the opening four verses.
In the final verse, Austin inserted a flourish on the words "Five Gold Rings". This has not been copied by later versions, which simply repeat the melody from the earlier verses.
In the 19th century, most sources for the lyrics do not include music, and those that do often include music different from what has become the standard melody.
Parodies and other versions
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- Burl Ives, backed by Percy Faith and his Orchestra and Chorus, recorded a traditional version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in 1951. Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters also recorded the traditional version of this song in the same year as Burl Ives did. The Ray Conniff Singers also recorded a traditional version in 1962, appearing on the album We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
- Perry Como recorded a traditional version of "Twelve Days of Christmas" in 1953 but varied the lyrics with "11 Lords a Leaping", "10 Ladies Dancing", and "9 Pipers Piping". It was musically supervised by Mitchell Ayres.
- Allan Sherman recorded—or at least released—two different versions of "The Twelve Gifts of Christmas". Sherman wrote and performed his version of the classic Christmas carol on a 1963 TV special that was taped well in advance of the holiday. Warner Bros. Records rushed out a 45 RPM version in early December.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for their 1963 album Christmas with The Chipmunks, Vol. 2.
- Frank Sinatra and his children, Frank Sinatra Jr., Nancy Sinatra, and Tina Sinatra, included their own version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" on their 1968 album, The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas.
- Fay McKay, an American musical comedian, is best known for "The Twelve Daze of Christmas", a parody in which the gifts were replaced with various alcoholic drinks, resulting in her performance becoming increasingly inebriated over the course of the song.
- A radio play written by Brian Sibley, "And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree" was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 1977. Starring Penelope Keith, it imagines the increasingly exasperated response of the recipient of the "twelve days" gifts. It was rebroadcast in 2011.
- The Muppets and singer-songwriter John Denver performed "The Twelve Days of Christmas" on the 1979 television special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. It was featured on the album of the same name. The song has been recorded by the Muppets five different times, featuring different Muppets in different roles each time.
- In 1975, the Sesame Street characters recorded a version of this song, using different lyrics. The 12 things are: one delicious cookie (Cookie Monster), two baby frogs (Hardhead Henry Harris, Elmo in the 1995 version), three footballs (Prairie Dawn), four wooly bears (Grover), five argyle socks (Bert), six rubber duckies (Ernie), seven rusty trashcans (Oscar the Grouch), eight counts a' counting (Count von Count), nine pounds of birdseed (Big Bird), ten wind-up rabbits (Smart Tina, later replaced by ten triangles Telly Monster), eleven broken buildings (Herry Monster) and "Twelve.... I can't remember!" (Mr. Snuffleupagus).
- A Māori / New Zealand version, titled "A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree," written by Kingi Matutaera Ihaka, appeared as a picture book and cassette recording in 1981.
- On the late-night sketch-comedy program Second City TV in 1982, the Canadian-rustic characters Bob & Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) released a version on the SCTV spin-off album Great White North.
- Roger Whittaker recorded the traditional version with Angus' format in 1984.
- The Twelve Days of Christmas (TV 1993), an animated tale which aired on NBC, features the voices of Marcia Savella, Larry Kenney, Carter Cathcart, Donna Vivino and Phil Hartman.
- Walt Kelly did a number of takes on the carol in Pogo. In one of them, the various characters, in fantastic hats, bring the gifts to Miz Beaver. By the 11th day, she, having run out of room -and patience-, calls a halt to the proceedings and speaks to Mr.Miggle, the general store proprieter, about taking them all off her hands.
- Christian rock band Relient K released a recording of the song on their 2007 album Let It Snow, Baby... Let It Reindeer. This version known for its slightly satirical refrain: "What's a partridge? What's a pear tree? I don't know, so please don't ask me. But I can bet those are terrible gifts to get." 
- A program hosted by Tom Arnold, The 12 Days of Redneck Christmas, which takes a look at Christmas traditions, premiered on CMT in 2008. The theme music is "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
- Polkadot Cadaver did a satiric version of the song on their album From Bethlehem to Oblivion.
- Shannon Chan-Kent, as her character of Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, sings her own version of the song on the album My Little Pony: It's a Pony Kind of Christmas.
- Irish actor Frank Kelly recorded "Christmas Countdown" in 1982 in which a man named Gobnait O’Lunacy receives 12 different Christmas gifts from a lady named Nuala. As each gift is received, the man gets increasingly upset with the person who sent them. This version charted in both Ireland (where it reached number 8 in 1982) and the UK (entering the UK chart in December 1983 and reaching number 26)
- A special Creature Comforts orchestral arrangement of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was made by British animator Nick Park and Aardman Animations. Featuring different animals discussing or trying to remember the lyrics of the song, it was released on Christmas Day 2005.
- New Orleans band Benny Grunch and the Bunch perform a "locals-humor take" on the song, titled "The Twelve Yats of Christmas."
Christmas Price Index
Since 1984, the cumulative costs of the items mentioned in the song have been used as a tongue-in-cheek economic indicator. Assuming the gifts are repeated in full in each round of the song, then a total of 364 items are delivered by the twelfth day. This custom began with and is maintained by PNC Bank. Two pricing charts are created, referred to as the Christmas Price Index and The True Cost of Christmas. The former is an index of the current costs of one set of each of the gifts given by the True Love to the singer of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas". The latter is the cumulative cost of all the gifts with the repetitions listed in the song. The people mentioned in the song are hired, not purchased. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2015 Christmas Price Index is US$34,130.99, or $155,407.18 for all 364 items. The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. The index has been criticized for not accurately reflecting the true cost of the gifts featured in the Christmas carol.
- Truscott, Jeffrey A. (2011). Worship. Armour Publishing. p. 103. ISBN 9789814305419.
As with the Easter cycle, churches today celebrate the Christmas cycle in different ways. Practically all Protestants observe Christmas itself, with services on 25 December or the evening before. Anglicans, Lutherans and other churches that use the ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary will likely observe the four Sundays of Advent, maintaining the ancient emphasis on the eschatological (First Sunday), ascetic (Second and Third Sundays), and scriptural/historical (Fourth Sunday). Besides Christmas Eve/Day, they will observe a 12-day season of Christmas from 25 December to 5 January.
- Scott, Brian (2015). But Do You Recall? 25 Days of Christmas Carols and the Stories Behind Them. p. 114.
Called Christmastide or Twelvetide, this twelve-day version began on December 25, Christmas Day, and lasted until the evening of January 5. During Twelvetide, other feast days are celebrated.
- P. Opie and I. Opie (eds), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951), ISBN 0-19-869111-4, pp. 122–23.
- Austin (1909)
- "h2g2 – Three French Hens – A212248". BBC. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
- Anonymous (1780). Mirth without Mischief. London: Printed by J. Davenport, George's Court, for C. Sheppard, no. 8, Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell. pp. 5–16.
- For example, Swortzell, Lowell (1966). A Partridge in a Pear Tree: A Comedy in One Act. New York: Samuel French. p. 20. ISBN 0-573-66311-4.
- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/colly, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/collie
- "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Active Bible Church of God, Chicago (Hyde Park), Illinois. Archived from the original on 17 Aug 2012. Retrieved 16 Dec 2014. Annotations reprinted from 4000 Years of Christmas by Earl W. Count (New York: Henry Schuman, 1948)
- "Gold keeps the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' cost a-leaping". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2009-12-08.
- Anonymous (n.d. (c. 1774–1825)). The Twelve Days of Christmas. Newcastle: Angus. Check date values in:
- Halliwell, James Orchard (1842). The Nursery Rhymes of England. London: Richards. pp. 127–128.
- Rimbault, Edward F. (c. 1846). Nursery Rhymes, with the Tunes to Which They Are Still Sung in the Nurseries of England. London: Cramer, Beale & Co. pp. 52–53.. For the date of 1846, see this catalogue from the Bodleian Library (p. 112)
- Halliwell, James Orchard (1853). The Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Tales of England (Fifth ed.). London: Frederick Warne and Co. pp. 73–74.
- Salmon, Robert S. (1855-12-29). "Christmas Jingle". Notes and Queries. London: George Bell. xii: 506–507.
- Husk (1864), pp. 181 – 185
- Thomas Hughes, "The Ashen Fagot", in Household Friends for Every Season. Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields. 1864. p. 34.
- "An Antiquarian" (1867). The Cliftonian (December 1867). Clifton, Bristol: J. Baker. pp. 145–146.
- Clark, Georgiana C. (c. 1875). Jolly Games for Happy Homes. London: Dean & Son. pp. 238–242.
- "Taken down by G. L. Kittredge, Dec. 30, 1877, from the singing of Mrs Sarah G. Lewis of Barnstaple, Mass. (born in Boston, 1799). Mrs. Lewis learned the song when a young girl from her grandmother, Mrs. Sarah Gorham". Reported in Kittredge, G. L. (July–September 1917). "Ballads and Songs". The Journal of American Folk-Lore. Lancaster, PA: American Folk-Lore Society. xxx (cxvii): 365–367.
- Henderson, William (1879). Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders. London: Satchell, Peyton and Co. p. 71.
- Stokoe, John (1888). The Monthly Chronicle of North-country Lore and Legend (issue of January 1888). Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Walter Scott. pp. 41–42.
- Minto (ed.), W. (1892). Autobiographical Notes on the Life of William Bell Scott, vol. i. New York: Harper. pp. 186–187.
- Cole, Pamela McArthur (1900). The Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. xiii, (issue of July-September 1900). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 229–230.
- Sharp, Cecil J. (1905). Folk Songs from Somerset. London: Simpkin.
- "Another Counting Song". Retrieved 7 December 2015.
- Postverk Føroya – Philatelic Office
- Ruth Rubin, Voices of a People: The Story of Yiddish Folksong, ISBN 0-252-06918-8, p. 465
- La Rerdriole by Orchestre François Rauber, at Facebook
- Mark Lawson-Jones, Why was the Partridge in the Pear Tree?: The History of Christmas Carols, 2011, ISBN 0-7524-7750-1
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition.
- "The song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was created as a coded reference". Snopes.com. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
- Husk(1864), p. 181
- Cecil J. Sharp, A. G. Gilchrist and Lucy E. Broadwood, "Forfeit Songs; Cumulative Songs; Songs of Marvels and of Magical Animals," Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 5, No. 20 (November 1916), pp. 280.
- Another suggestion is that an old English drinking song may have furnished the idea for the first gift. William B. Sandys refers to it as a "convivial glee introduced a few years since, 'A Pie [i.e., a magpie] sat on a Pear Tree,' where one drinks while the others sing," William Sandys, Festive Songs'—-16th and I7th Centuries (Percy Society Publications, Vol. 23, 1847), p. 74. The image of the bird in the pear tree also appears in lines from a children's counting rhyme an old Mother Goose.
- A pye sate on a pear tree, Heigh O!
- Once so merrily hopp'd she; Heigh O!
- Twice so merrily, etc.
- Thrice so, etc.
- Yoffee, "Songs of the Twelve Numbers", 1949, p. 400.
- McKellar, High D. (October 1994). "The Twelve Days of Christmas". The Hymn. 45,4.
In any case, really evocative symbols do not allow of [sic] definitive explication, exhausting all possibilities. I can at most report what this song's symbols have suggested to me in the course of four decades, hoping thereby to start you on your own quest.
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Despite Father Stockert's own acknowledgment of his mistake, years later Catholics in the United States (in particular) continue to spread this urban legend every Christmas season.
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- There is a version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that is still sung in Sussex in which the four calling birds are replaced by canaries. See Pape, Gordon, and Deborah Kerbel. Quizmas Carols: Family Trivia Fun with Classic Christmas Songs. New York: A Plume Book, October 2007. ISBN 978-0-452-28875-1
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- Yoffie, Leah Rachel Clara. "'Songs of the 'Twelve Numbers' and the Hebrew Chant of 'Echod mi Yodea'". The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 62, No. 246 (October – December 1949). "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Pp. 399–401.
- Opie, Peter and Iona, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, pp. 122–230, ISBN 0-19-869111-4.
- Media related to The Twelve Days of Christmas (song) at Wikimedia Commons
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- Free scores of The Twelve Days of Christmas in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free online simple melody score for all verses (as jpegs or pdf) in English and Esperanto: "The Twelve Days of Christmas / La Dek Du Tagoj de Kristnasko".