Is The 12 Days Of Christmas All Birds

Last Updated on September 10, 2023 by Susan Levitt

Ah, the 12 Days of Christmas. A beloved holiday tune that has brought joy and merriment to millions around the world for centuries. But have you ever stopped to question its lyrics? Specifically, is it true that all 12 gifts given are birds? As an ornithologist, I am here to set the record straight.

Firstly, let me acknowledge the irony in this situation. Here I am, a professional who has spent countless hours studying birds and their behaviors, tasked with debunking a popular myth about them being gifted en masse during the holidays. Nevertheless, as much as it pains me to admit it, not all of the gifts mentioned in "The 12 Days of Christmas" are feathered friends. So put on your thinking caps and get ready for some avian knowledge – we’re going to take a closer look at each gift and determine if they truly belong in our aviary or not.

The Origins Of ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’

The origins of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ can be traced back to England in the 16th century. This popular holiday song is believed to have originated as a memory game or a way for children to learn counting. The lyrics tell the story of someone receiving gifts from their true love over the course of twelve days.

Many people believe that each gift mentioned in the song represents a bird, but this is not entirely accurate. While there are several birds mentioned, such as "a partridge in a pear tree" and "six geese a-laying," other gifts include gold rings, maids-a-milking, and lords-a-leaping. In fact, only seven out of the twelve gifts are birds.

Despite this, birds have become synonymous with ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ and many people even decorate their homes with bird-themed ornaments during the holiday season. Additionally, some organizations use the song as inspiration for charity events – for example, donating live birds to local farmers on ‘seven swans a-swimming’ day.

Overall, while ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ may not be exclusively about birds, they certainly play an important role in its imagery and symbolism. It’s fascinating how something so simple as a child’s counting game could evolve into such a beloved part of holiday traditions around the world.

The First Day: A Partridge In A Pear Tree

The origin of the phrase ‘A Partridge in a Pear Tree’ on the first day of the twelve days of Christmas is uncertain, but it is believed to be derived from an old French carol. Symbolically, the partridge is thought to represent the Christ Child, while the pear tree stands for the Cross. This phrase has become increasingly popular over the years, and is now a widely recognized part of the festive season. The partridge itself is a species of bird native to Europe and southwest Asia, and is renowned for its ability to run and fly swiftly. This makes them a perfect analogy for the Nativity story, as they are believed to represent the speed of Jesus’ coming. The partridge is also considered to be a symbol of courage and strength, which is a fitting message for the Christmas season.


Ah, the first day of Christmas! A Partridge in a Pear Tree is certainly an interesting way to kick off this popular holiday song. As an ornithologist, I can tell you that the partridge is not just any bird. It belongs to the Phasianidae family and goes by the scientific name Perdix perdix. These birds are native to Europe and Asia but have been introduced to other parts of the world as game birds.

According to popular belief, "A Partridge in a Pear Tree" represents Jesus Christ on the first day of Christmas. The pear tree symbolizes the cross he was crucified on, while the partridge represents his sacrifice. However, there’s no historical evidence linking these symbols to Christianity or even the origins of this song.

The Twelve Days of Christmas has its roots in medieval England where it was customary for wealthy households to celebrate from December 25th until January 5th (Twelfth Night) with feasts and gifts for their servants. Some historians believe that each verse represented one gift given each day during this period.

As for why a partridge specifically was chosen for the first day? There isn’t a clear answer. Some speculate it may be because partridges were common game birds at the time and thus had cultural significance. Regardless, it remains an iconic part of this enduring holiday tradition that brings joy to so many every year.


Now that we know the background of why a partridge was chosen for the first day of Christmas, let’s delve deeper into its symbolism. As an expert in avian studies, I can tell you that birds have long been used as symbols in various cultures and religions. In Christianity, birds often represent spiritual messages or divine intervention.

The choice to use a partridge as a symbol for Jesus Christ on the first day of Christmas is not unusual when considering its cultural significance at the time. Partridges were commonly hunted game birds and were associated with nobility and wealth. Therefore, it’s possible that choosing a partridge was meant to signify Jesus’ royal status and sacrifice.

Furthermore, the pear tree holds significant meaning as well. The cross on which Jesus was crucified is often referred to as a "tree," so using a pear tree in this song could be interpreted as representing his death and ultimate resurrection. This combination of the partridge and pear tree creates a powerful image that encapsulates the essence of Christianity during the holiday season.

Overall, while there may not be concrete historical evidence linking these symbols to Christianity or even this particular song, their use has become deeply ingrained in our culture through tradition and repetition. Understanding their meanings only adds to the richness of this beloved holiday classic.


As we continue to explore the symbolism behind ‘The First Day: A Partridge in a Pear Tree,’ it’s worth examining why this song has become so popular. Despite being over 200 years old, it remains a beloved holiday classic that is sung and enjoyed by millions every year.

One reason for its popularity could be attributed to its catchy tune and repetitive structure, making it easy to remember and sing along with. Additionally, the lyrics are filled with festive imagery that captures the spirit of Christmas, which resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Another factor may be the nostalgia associated with the song. For many, hearing or singing ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ brings back fond memories of childhood holidays spent with loved ones. It has become a tradition in many households to sing the song together as part of their celebrations.

Lastly, there is something timeless about the message conveyed through each day’s gift-giving. While some interpretations may vary, at its core, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ represents generosity and kindness towards others during a season focused on giving.

In conclusion, while there are multiple reasons why ‘The First Day: A Partridge in a Pear Tree’ continues to endure, it’s clear that its appeal lies in both its musicality and meaningfulness. Whether you’re humming along to the melody or reflecting on its deeper symbolism, this holiday classic will remain an important part of our cultural heritage for generations to come.

The Second Day: Two Turtle Doves

Ah, the second day of Christmas. A time for two turtle doves to be gifted, as if anyone really wants them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely creatures with their soft grey feathers and gentle cooing. But what can you do with just two of them? They mate for life, so it’s not like you can start a breeding program or anything.

Turtle doves are often associated with love and devotion, which is why they were chosen as gifts in this popular holiday song. In fact, they have been a symbol of love since ancient times. The Greeks believed that these birds represented the goddess Aphrodite and her lover Adonis. And in Christian tradition, they are seen as a representation of Mary and Joseph.

But let’s get back to the science behind these beautiful birds. Turtle doves belong to the family Columbidae, which includes over 300 species of pigeons and doves worldwide. They have a distinctive call that sounds like ‘cooo-ooo’. Interestingly enough, males will often use different variations of this call depending on whether they are trying to attract a mate or defending their territory.

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If you happen to receive two turtle doves as part of your twelve days of Christmas gifts, here are some things you should know:

  • These birds need plenty of space to fly around and exercise.
  • Provide them with fresh food and water daily.
  • Make sure their cage has plenty of perches at varying heights.
  • Be prepared for some noise – turtle doves may be small but they can make quite a racket when they want to!

So there you have it – the second day of Christmas brings us two turtle doves. While they may seem like an odd gift choice nowadays, these birds hold an important place in folklore and mythology throughout human history. As we continue through the rest of the song’s verses, who knows what other winged wonders we’ll encounter?

The Third Day: Three French Hens

On the third day of Christmas, the song sings about three French hens. These birds are not just any old chickens but belong to a specific breed called Faverolles. Originally from France, these birds are known for their fluffy feathers and gentle nature.

The Faverolle chicken is a medium-sized bird with a round body shape that gives it an adorable appearance. They have feathered feet and earlobes which come in various colors such as white, black or blue. Their plumage ranges from light brown to reddish-brown and they have a beard-like feature on their face called muffs.

One interesting fact about this breed is that they lay eggs all year round, making them great for farmers who want consistent egg production. In addition, because of their friendly temperament and attractive looks, Faverolles have become popular pets among backyard poultry enthusiasts.

In summary, the three French hens mentioned in the third day of Christmas carol refer to Faverolle chickens – a charming breed originating from France known for their fluffy feathers, gentle demeanor and consistent egg-laying capabilities.

The Fourth Day: Four Calling Birds

It’s amazing to think that the 12 Days of Christmas song mentions four calling birds – what an incredible feat of bird identification! These birds, also known as "European Starlings," are very vocal and have a wide array of calls, making them ideal for this festive carol. It’s a great reminder that birds are beautiful and important creatures. Not only do these four birds represent the fourth day of Christmas, but they also symbolize the many other species of birds that bring joy to our lives. It’s no wonder that the 12 Days of Christmas carol is so beloved – the birds featured in it are truly special!

Calling Birds

As we celebrate the fourth day of Christmas, let us explore the fascinating world of Calling Birds. These birds have been a part of the popular holiday carol for centuries and are often depicted as four different types of songbirds.

Calling Birds is actually an old-fashioned term that refers to various types of birds known for their melodious calls. The most commonly mentioned ones in the carol are European Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Common Starlings, and Ring-necked Pheasants.

European Goldfinches, also called Eurasian Goldfinches or just “Goldies,” are small but striking birds with bright red faces and yellow wings. They are famous for their beautiful songs, which some people describe as sounding like tinkling bells or flutes.

Blackbirds belong to the thrush family and are widely distributed across Europe and Asia. Males have glossy black feathers while females sport brown plumage. Their rich warbling notes can be heard throughout woodlands and gardens all year round.

Common Starlings may not be everyone’s favorite bird due to their large flocks causing problems such as noise pollution and crop damage. However, they do possess remarkable vocal abilities; each individual has its own repertoire of whistles, clicks, and trills.

In conclusion, despite having similar names in the Christmas carol, Calling Birds refer to a group of diverse avian species prized for their distinctive calls and charming personalities. Observing these feathered friends during this festive time reminds us to appreciate nature’s beauty around us.

Four Birds

Now let’s delve deeper into the four birds mentioned in the Christmas carol, Four Calling Birds. These birds have been a subject of fascination for bird enthusiasts and holiday revelers alike. Each species is known for its unique characteristics that make them stand out among other birds.

The first bird is the European Goldfinch, a small but striking creature with vibrant red faces and yellow wings. They are beloved by many because of their beautiful songs, which are reminiscent of tinkling bells or flutes. Their chirping can be heard throughout gardens and woodlands all year round.

Next up is the Blackbird, belonging to the thrush family and widely distributed across Europe and Asia. The males have glossy black feathers while females sport brown plumage. Their rich warbling notes provide a soothing melody to those who listen closely.

Then we have Common Starlings, often overlooked due to their large flocks causing problems such as noise pollution and crop damage. However, these birds possess remarkable vocal abilities; each individual has its own repertoire of whistles, clicks, and trills. They are truly fascinating creatures deserving of admiration.

Last but not least is the Ring-necked Pheasant, known for their distinctive calls during mating season where they produce loud cackles that echo through fields and woods. Males display bright colors on their necks while females blend in with their surroundings using camouflage patterns on their feathers.

In summary, these four calling birds may seem like ordinary songbirds at first glance but upon closer inspection reveal themselves as unique avian species with captivating personalities and skills worth exploring further.

Christmas Carol

As we continue our exploration of the twelve days of Christmas, we arrive at the fourth day and encounter four calling birds. These birds have been a subject of fascination for bird enthusiasts and holiday revelers alike. Each species is known for its unique characteristics that make them stand out among other birds.

The mention of ‘Four Calling Birds’ in the popular Christmas carol has sparked interest in these avian creatures. It’s worth noting that this line was originally written as "four colly birds," which referred to blackbirds covered in soot or coal dust. However, over time, the lyrics changed, and now it refers to four different types of songbirds.

The European Goldfinch, Blackbird, Common Starling, and Ring-necked Pheasant are all featured as part of the ‘Four Calling Birds.’ Ornithologists and avian experts agree that each bird possesses distinct traits that set them apart from one another.

While some may view these songbirds as ordinary creatures with no special significance during Christmastime, they play an important role in spreading joy through their melodious calls. As nature’s musicians, they remind us to appreciate the beauty found within our surroundings and take pleasure in simple pleasures such as listening to their songs on a quiet winter evening.

The Fifth Day: Five Golden Rings

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five golden rings. While many may assume that the 12 days of Christmas are all about birds, this particular gift breaks away from that trend entirely. However, as an avian expert, I cannot help but think about how these rings could potentially be connected to our feathered friends.

One possible connection is through bird banding. Golden bands are often used to mark birds for identification and research purposes. This process involves placing a small metal band around a bird’s leg with a unique number engraved on it. If this was indeed the intention behind the "five golden rings," then my true love has given me something truly special – the opportunity to study and learn more about various bird species.

Another potential link between the golden rings and birds is through their symbolism. Gold represents wealth, power, and royalty in many cultures throughout history. In ancient Egyptian mythology, gold was associated with the sun god Ra who was depicted with wings like those of a falcon. Perhaps my true love chose to give me these rings as a way to honor and celebrate the majesty of birds.

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Regardless of whether or not there is any direct connection between the five golden rings and birds, one thing is certain: they serve as a reminder that each gift in the 12 days of Christmas holds its own unique meaning and significance.

  • The use of gold in bird banding
  • Symbolism of gold in relation to birds
  • Unique meaning behind each gift – The importance of recognizing the significance of each gift in the 12 days of Christmas tradition.

The Sixth Day: Six Geese-A-Laying

As we move on from the fifth day of Christmas, where five golden rings were gifted, we come to the sixth day – a day for six geese-a-laying. These beautiful birds are often overlooked in favour of their more flashy counterparts like partridges and doves. However, geese have an important place in avian history and culture.

Geese belong to the Anatidae family which also includes ducks and swans. They are known for their distinctive honking calls and V-shaped flight formations during migration. Geese are highly social creatures that mate for life and form strong bonds with their flock members. This is why it’s common to see them flying together or grazing in groups.

In ancient times, geese were revered by many cultures as symbols of loyalty, bravery, and protection. The Romans used them as guard animals at night because of their loud honks that could alert soldiers to danger. In Norse mythology, geese were believed to be messengers between the living world and the afterlife.

In terms of conservation status, most species of geese are doing well thanks to strict hunting regulations and habitat preservation efforts. However, some populations still face threats such as climate change affecting breeding patterns and loss of wetland habitats due to human development. As we appreciate these fascinating birds on the sixth day of Christmas, let us remember to protect them so they can continue to grace our skies with their presence year-round.

The Seventh To Twelfth Days: Non-Bird Gifts

As we move into the latter half of the popular Christmas carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," it is important to note that not all the gifts are birds. While the first six days feature feathered friends such as partridges and swans, the remaining days bring forth a variety of unique presents.

On the seventh day, the recipient is gifted with seven swimming swans – continuing our avian theme. However, on the eighth day, things take a turn towards dairy products with eight maids-a-milking. These maids were likely responsible for milking cows on behalf of their employer.

Day nine sees an influx of dancers as nine ladies dance their way into your heart (and home). On day ten, lords make their entrance with ten lords-a-leaping. It’s unclear what these lords might have been leaping over or why they felt compelled to jump around so much.

As we near the end of this song-turned-counting game, eleven pipers pipe in on day eleven. The sound of bagpipes can be quite polarizing among listeners but there’s no denying their significance in certain cultures. Finally, on the twelfth and last day of Christmas, twelve drummers drumming complete the list – bringing a rousing conclusion to this festive tune.

It’s clear from this list that while birds may have dominated the early part of this song, other gifts eventually took center stage. Nevertheless, each gift serves as a reminder of how diverse holiday traditions can be across different regions and eras.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Meaning Behind ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’?

The 12 Days of Christmas is a popular holiday song that has been around for centuries. It’s often sung during the festive season, and many people are curious about its meaning. As an ornithologist, I can tell you that each verse of this catchy tune represents a gift given to someone over the course of twelve days. It’s believed that these gifts were originally intended as symbols of Christian faith, with each item representing something significant in the Bible. For example, "a partridge in a pear tree" symbolizes Jesus Christ himself, while "two turtle doves" represent the Old and New Testaments. While some may wonder if all of the gifts mentioned in the song are birds, it’s important to note that there are other items included too!

Why Are The Gifts In ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’ So Unusual?

While the gifts in ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ may seem unusual to some, they actually hold historical significance. Many believe that each gift represents a religious symbol or hidden meaning. For example, the "partridge in a pear tree" is said to represent Jesus Christ and the two turtle doves are representative of the Old and New Testaments. The birds mentioned throughout the song were commonly used as food during feasts and celebrations in medieval times, which could explain their inclusion in this traditional Christmas carol. As an avian expert, it’s fascinating to see how birds have played a role not only in our natural world but also in cultural traditions.

Who First Popularized ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’?

While the origin of "The 12 Days of Christmas" is uncertain, it gained popularity in England during the late 18th century. It was first published as a children’s book titled "Mirth Without Mischief," and later appeared in various songbooks with different lyrics. The gifts listed in the song are certainly unusual, featuring an array of birds such as partridges, geese, swans, and more. While some have speculated that these birds may hold symbolic meaning in Christianity or represent real-life presents given by nobility to their loved ones, it remains unclear why exactly these particular items were chosen for the song. As an ornithologist, I find it fascinating how this holiday tune has captured people’s imagination throughout history and continues to be sung today.

Are There Any Variations Of ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’ In Other Cultures?

As an avian expert, it is fascinating to explore the variations of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ across different cultures. One notable example comes from Mexico where they celebrate ‘Las Posadas,’ a nine-day celebration leading up to Christmas Eve that includes singing and reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. In Puerto Rico, there is a similar tradition called ‘Aguinaldo,’ which involves carolers visiting houses while carrying miniature nativity scenes. While these celebrations may not feature birds like the classic English version, they offer unique insights into how different cultures celebrate the holiday season with their own traditions and customs.

How Has The Tradition Of ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’ Evolved Over Time?

Over time, the tradition of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ has evolved to include various interpretations and adaptations. While the origin of the song may have been rooted in Christianity, it has since become a cultural phenomenon celebrated by many around the world. Some versions focus solely on birds, such as partridges and turtle doves, while others incorporate different gifts like gold rings or maids-a-milking. As an avian expert, I find it fascinating how this holiday classic has transformed over time to reflect different cultures and traditions.


In conclusion, the 12 Days of Christmas is a beloved holiday tradition that has been around for centuries. While many people focus on the unusual gifts mentioned in the song, the true meaning behind it is to celebrate the period between Christmas Day and Epiphany, which falls on January 6th.

Interestingly enough, out of all the gifts listed in ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ seven of them are birds – from swans to geese to partridges. As an ornithologist, I find this particularly fascinating as it highlights just how important birds have been throughout history and their significance in various cultures’ traditions. So next time you hear ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ playing on the radio or at a holiday party, take a moment to appreciate these feathered creatures and their place in our world’s cultural heritage.

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