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On the twelfth day of Christmas

To celebrate Epiphany and the gifts of the Wise Men.

by The Revd Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)

Aims

To celebrate Epiphany and the gifts of the Wise Men.

Preparation and materials

  • The words and music of the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.

  • Divide the assembly into ten groups, numbered as shown below.

Assembly

  1. Ask everyone to think about the Christmas presents they have received. Invite a number of children and teachers to talk about their most unusual gift.
  2. Introduce the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, which lists some really extraordinary presents! Explain that the twelve days of Christmas are the last six days of the old year and the first six days of the new – the period between Christmas Day and 6 January or ‘Epiphany’ as it is called. Traditionally, it’s a very joyful time and this is reflected in the song. Enjoy singing it

    together. (It can also be fun for different groups to sing different lines.) The song is cumulative, that is, it grows a line at a time.

    The first verse runs:
    (Everyone)

    On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
    a partridge in a pear tree.

    The second verse:
    (Group 2)
    On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
    Two turtle doves
    (Everyone)
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    The third verse:
    (Group 3)
    On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
    Three French hens,
    (Group 2)
    two turtle doves
    (Everyone)
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    and so on until the twelfth and final verse:

    (Group 12)
    On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
    Twelve drummers drumming,
    (Group 11)  Eleven pipers piping,
    (Group 10)  Ten lords a-leaping,
    (Group 9)  Nine ladies dancing,
    (Group 8)  Eight maids a-milking,
    (Group 7)  Seven swans a-swimming
    (Group 6)  Six geese a-laying,
    (Everyone)  Five golden rings,
    (Group 4)  Four calling birds,
    (Group 3)  Three French hens,
    (Group 2)  Two turtle doves
    (Everyone)  And a partridge in a pear tree!

    Note that there is no Group 1 or 5, but that these lines are to be sung by everyone.
  3. Explain that the song has been sung for over 200 years and that there are a number of ideas as to what it really means. It’s most likely that it was simply sung for fun as part of a memory game. The leader sang the first verse, and others sang each line in turn until someone missed or forgot their words – just as often happens when the song is sung in groups!

    Others have suggested that the words have a hidden religious meaning.
    For example:

    – the partridge is Jesus and the tree, his cross
    – the two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments (parts of the Bible), and
    – the four calling birds are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  4. Continue by saying that other unusual gifts can found in the Christmas story itself. The twelfth day of Christmas celebrates the visit of the Wise Men. They came to worship a newborn King, and presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts also have hidden meanings!

    Explain that gold, the most precious metal, was a present for an important person. It was a gift that said: ‘Jesus is a King who will bring love!’

    Frankincense and myrrh were both very expensive perfumes made from the resin (sticky gum) of trees. People burned frankincense in religious ceremonies. They believed the fragrance carried their prayers to heaven. It was a gift that said: ‘Jesus will draw us close to God and bring joy.’

    Myrrh was used in ointments to heal sore skin and wounds. It was a gift that said: ‘Jesus will heal divisions and bring peace.’

    All these were strange gifts for a young baby! Actually, they tell of the importance of love, joy and peace.

    On the Twelfth Day of Christmas and during the season of Epiphany, Christians celebrate the meaning of Jesus’ birth.
  5. Conclude by singing the final verse of the Twelve Days of Christmas once more.

Time for reflection

Invite everyone:

– to be thankful for the presents that they have received at Christmas
– to be thankful for the fun of singing together

– to remember how the wise men brought gifts with hidden meanings, telling of the importance of love, joy and peace.

Prayer
Lord God,
the Christmas holidays have ended,
but help us to remember
that giving and sharing are always special,
everyday of the year.
Amen.

Song/music

‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’

Publication date: January 2011   (Vol.13 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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