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The Twelve Days of Christmas

[ Roud 68 ; G/D 3:637 ; Ballad Index FO213 ; Bodleian Roud 68 ; Wiltshire 500 ; trad.]

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a song from the repertoire of the Copper Family. Bob and Ron Copper sang it in a Peter Kennedy recording on Folk Song Today (1955) and on Songs of Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9, Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). In his song book of 1936 Jim Copper called this song Christmas Presents, and this title has been used for the reissue of Bob and Ron Copper's 1950s recording on the 2007 CD Coppers at Christmas.

Isla St Clair, Martin Carthy and others sang The Twelve Days of Christmas in 1982 on the video 70 Golden Nursery Rhymes.

John Kirkpatrick et al. sang The Twelve Days of Christmas on their 1998 Folkworks/Fellside CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter. He commented in the liner notes:

The giving of gifts at Midwinter has been going on since ancient times. So has the singing of daft songs as memory tests and tongue twisters, of which this is a fine example. I can't help thinking that the words may originally have been a recipe for one of those feasts where each bird is stuffed inside a larger one, but I accept that this theory doesn't hold water once we get to nine lads a-leaping, even though it might explain their eagerness to keep on the move. This slightly unusual list of presents comes from the repertoire of the Copper family of Rottingdean, Sussex.

Nowell Sing We Clear sang The Twelve Days of Christmas in 2008 on their CD Nowell Nowell Nowell. They commented in their liner notes:

This version is from the Copper Family of Rottingdean in Sussex with our own arrangement inspired by a treatment on John Kirkpatrick's 1997 “Wassail” tour of Northern England.

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker sang The Twelve Days of Christmas in 2013 on their CD Midwinter.

Bill Barclay sang an increasingly drunk The Twelve Days of Christmas on the 2002 Greentrax anthology Bah! Humbug.

Lyrics

John Kirkpatrick et al sing The Twelve Days of Christmas

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.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight deers a-running,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Nine lads a-leaping,
Eight deers a-running,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten ladies skipping,
Nine lads a-leaping,
Eight deers a-running,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eleven bears a-baiting,
Ten ladies skipping,
Nine lads a-leaping,
Eight deers a-running,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve parsons preaching,
Eleven bears a-baiting,
Ten ladies skipping,
Nine lads a-leaping,
Eight deers a-running,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four canary birds,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Links

Donald E. Knuth: The Complexity of Songs