Notes to Song & Poem: "The 12 Days of Christmas: Re-Vision"

By Peter Y. Chou,

Day # Gift Traditional Symbolism Poetic Re-vision
1 Partridge
in a Pear Tree
Christ on the Cross
Cross Symbolism, Poem
One in the Many
Plato's Vision, Philebus, 16d
2 Two Turtle Doves Old & New Testaments Yin & Yang (I Ching)
Day & Night (M.C. Escher)
3 Three French Hens The Trinity
(Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
3 Theological Virtues
(Faith, Hope, Charity)
I Corinthians, XIII.13
3 States of Consciousness
(Waking, Dreaming, Deep Sleep)

3 Frames of Time
(Past, Present, Future)
3 Dimensions of Space
(X, Y, Z-Coordinates)
4 Four Calling Birds Four Gospels
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,
4 Seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter)
4 Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air)
5 Five Golden Rings 5 Books of Moses
(Pentateuch or The Torah)

5 Kosas (Sheaths)
Food sheath (Annamaya Kosa)
Vital-Air sheath (Pranamaya Kosa)
Mental sheath (Manamaya Kosa)
Intellectual sheath (Vignanamaya Kosa)
Bliss sheath (Anandamaya Kosa)
Sivananda's Moksha Gita
Charles Demuth: The Figure 5 in Gold
6 Six Geese Laying 6 Days of Creation
Genesis, I.1-31
Perfect Number 6
6-sided Honeycomb
6-cornered Snowflake
6-pointed Star (Solomon's Seal)
7 Seven Swans Swimming 7 Gifts of Holy Spirit
(prophesying, serving, teaching,
encouraging, contributing,
governing, showing mercy)
Romans, XII.6-8
7 Singing Swans swimming around
the island Delos, birthplace of Apollo,
born on the 7th Day,
Sunday, the Day of Rest
8 Eight Maids Milking 8 Beatitudes
Matthew, V.3-10
8 immortals milking the Galactic Cow,
our Milky Way Galaxy; Krishna, the Cowherd;
Vishnu Churning the Ocean of Milk
9 Nine Ladies Dancing 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit
(love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faith,
gentleness, temperance)
Galatians, V.22-23
9 Muses dancing to Apollo's
on Mt. Parnassus:
Calliope, Clio, Erato,
Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia,
Terpsichore, Thalia, & Urania
10 Ten Lords Leaping 10 Commandments
Exodus, XX.3-17
10 Sephiroths,
Spheres of Light Leaping
11 Eleven Pipers Piping 11 faithful Apostles
Acts, I.13
11, number of renewal & rebirth
Joseph Campbell: James Joyce's 1132
12 Twelve Drummers
12 Articles of the
Apostles' Creed
History of Apostles' Creed
12 Hours of Day & Night
12 Constellations of the Zodiac

Introductory Notes: When a friend sent me an email ASCII Computer Art rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", I began searching on the Internet about this traditional song. When I found Fr. Hal Stockert's "Origin of The Twelve Days of Christmas: An Underground Catechism" (1995) on the Catholic Information Network, I was surprised to learn that was written in England during the 16th century as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith. The symbolisms from Stockert's web page have been replicated on hundreds of sites relating to this song. Later, I found the Urban Legends site which debunked Stockert's version. Phil Hamilton noted that the Austin Public Library has found information in Leigh Grant's book Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration and History (1995). It says the words from this song first appeared in a book titled Mirth without Mischief. That book came out in 1780 (or 1783) in England. The tune apparently dates back much further and came from France. That 1780 book describes "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a "memory and forfeits game" played by children at that time. I've documented with web links the Biblical sources of the traditional interpretations for those who derive inspiration from this version. However, I found numerical insights from other spiritual traditions— Chinese Taoism, Hindu Vedanta, Greek Mythology, Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Gnosticism, and Platonism— which inspired the poem "The 12 Days of Christmas: Re-Vision" with notes to share with my readers. I feel that this is a sacred song describing the Soul's descent from the One Spirit (Father in Heaven) to the Body (Man on Earth) and the Soul's ascent in the song's middle (Star of David or Solomon's Seal) pointing our way back to the stars from whence we came. To the masses, the stars are millions of light-years from our body, but the Wise Men tell us that these same stars are right here right now in our Mind. This is our Epiphany!

Meditation Notes to Poem:

a vision of One Spirit flowing through many trees:
I was invited to a luncheon at the home of a Lebanese hostess in New Hampshire around 1977, and sat at a table with Swami Chinmayanada and two Catholic Priests. One of them mentioned to the Swami that "we are such weakenings compared to God, like small branches on a giant tree." I could still hear the thunderous roar of Chinmayananda even now 25 years later: "NO! You're not the tiny branch! YOU'RE THE SAP FLOWING THROUGH THE WHOLE TREE!" As soon as Swami said those words, I realized Plato's vision (Philebus, 16d) at once— seeing the One water flowing in the many waves of the ocean, One electricity flowing through many street lights & appliances in a city, and One Spirit singing One Song in all the galaxies of this universe.

2 love birds— Yin and Yang kissing day into night:
The Chinese symbol of Yin (Dark) & Yang (Light) appear like tear drops or love birds nestling in each other in the Tao circle. Where they touch and kiss, day meets night as in dawn and dusk. Later, I found this Greek story: When Apollo (Sun God) & Artemis (Moon Goddess) were about to be born to Leto on the Island of Delos, "the goddesses of the island sent the messenger Iris (Goddess of the Rainbow) to fetch the goddess Eileithyia. They promised in reward for her services a golden necklet 9 ells long. With this promise the one goddess persuaded the other, and they both came flying to Delos, in the form of two turtle-doves. Just as Eileithyia arrived on the island, Leto gave birth." [C. Kerényi, The Gods of the Greeks (1951), p. 134].

3 states of mind, 3 frames of time, this 3-D world:
In Vedantic philosophy, reality must satisfy not only the passage of time— past, present, future, but also the three states of consciousness— waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. If this 3-D world of space disappears in the sleep state, then it is not real, but an illusion (Maya). What is Real is Pure Consciousness (Brahman = OM), ever present in the Waker, Dreamer, and Sleeper. This is the real gift of 3 Magi— whose gold (solid), myrrh (liquid), and frankincense (vapor), reminds us that these forms of matter (3-D world = Earth) are but reflections of the Essece or Spirit (Heaven) in us which is ALLAH, BUDDHA or CHRIST— The Awakened One (TAO) in our heart.

4 seasons chanting— earth, water, fire, air:
Unlike the 4 calling birds, the 4 seasons chant in silence as one season blends into the next— Spring (birth), Summer (growth), Autumn (decay), Winter (death)— and Spring again (rebirth). They chant to the 4 elements to nourish the flowers and trees in bloom— earth to anchor the plants to the ground, water for the plants to drink, fire or the sun's photosynthesis to activate the plant's growth, and air in a symbiotic relationship to the animal kingdom (oxygen released by plants for CO2 released by animals).

5 sheaths & 5 senses— our windows to the world:
In the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas", the line "5 golden rings" are given special prominence when sung. It is the only line in the song devoid of birds or humans. As such it forms a link from earth (people on the ground) to heaven (birds of the air). The 5 rings also remind us of the 5 fingers on our hand and the 5 senses— our window to the world. However, if we forget Christ's parable of the 5 wise & the 5 foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), we may be too engrossed in the material world with our 5 outer senses, that when the Bridegroom cometh, we're unprepared without oil, our candle wicks unlit. Meditation prepares us for the angelic calling, when we tune into our 5 inner senses— "Eye of the eye, Ear of the ear, Voice of the voice, Mind of the mind, Life of the life" (Kena Upanishads). The Hindu philosophy teaches us that there are 5 body sheaths: Food, Air, Mental, Intellectual, Bliss, or classified as the Gross Body (Food, Air), Subtle Body (Emotional, Intellectual), and Causal Body (Bliss or Vasanas). When our attention is focused on the Subtle & Causal Bodies, then our mind and heart are ready like the 5 wise virgins— ready to be enlightened, to experience Cosmic Consciousness. Once awakened, the sage returns to the market place and shares his visionary gifts with the world (Tenth Oxherd Painting), as in the case of William Carlos Williams' poem "The Great Figure".

6 honeycombs, 6 snowflakes, and a 6-pointed star!:
The philosopher Pythagoras discovered that "6" is a perfect number, one whose number is equal to the sum of its divisors. Thus: 1 + 2 + 3 = 6 = 1 x 2 x 3. Nature found that the closest packing polygons are 6-sided, so bees utilize this hexagonal figure in their construction of honeycombs. Why are snowflakes 6-cornered? Kepler addresses this question, in his book to the Emperor. Now we know it's because that's the crystal structure of ice molecules. The 6-Pointed Star is known as "Magen David" or "Star of David". With two triangles set opposite each other, it represents the union of opposites and harmonious balance of creative forces. Also known as Solomon's Seal, the tip of the upper triangle touches heaven while the tip of the lower triangle touches earth. I like Robert Browning when he said: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what is a heaven for." But I love Pythagoras when he said: "From earth to heaven, every step along the way is heaven." May our spiritual journey be full of beauty, full of bliss.

7 swans swimming around Delos where Apollo was born:
The island of Delos (visible) or Ortygia (Quail Island) arose from the sea by the power of Neptune, who according to legend, permitted Leto (Latona) to bring forth birth to her twins Apollo and Diana (Artemis) who were fathered by Zeus. One of the altars of Apollo, in the island, was reckoned among the 7 wonders of the world [Lemprière's Classical Dictionary, 3rd Ed. (1984), p. 198]. Artemis was born first, her birthday was celebrated on the 6th day of the month, Apollo's on the 7th day. While Leto still lay in the birth-pangs with Apollo, swans circled singing 7 times about the island. As they circled an 8th time they no longer sang: Apollo sprang forth and the Delian Nymphs sang the sacred song of Eileithyia. The whole of Delos was fragrant, the island turned golden and everything blossomed. A cock was present at Apollo's birth— that fowl of which falls into an ecstasy and dances at moonrise, although chiefly it is a witness of sunrise. Since that time the cock is thought to have been Leto's favorite bird. [C. Kerényi, The Gods of the Greeks (1951), pp. 132-134].

8 immortals milking the galactic cow— our Milky Way:
Who are these 8 milkmaids? I felt they were angels but then realized that there are 8 Taoist Immortals exhibiting many angelic traits. Chung-li K'uan, the God of Longevity, is shown riding on a stag or flying on a crane with a giant peach as the Elixir of Life. When I realized that our Milky Way Galaxy is but a giant galactic cow, and the word galactic has lactic or milk in it! Now the Hindu pantheon started to make sense— Krishna, the Cowherd, making love to the milk maidens; Vishnu, the Preserver God, reclining in an ocean of milk, churning this cosmos into existence. No wonder the cow is sacred in India and to some extent, China.

9 muses dancing with Apollo— their feet in the air:
Apollo plays the lyre while the 9 muses dance around him on Mt. Parnassus, one of the highest mountains of Europe. It is easily seen from the citadel of Corinth, though at the distance of about 80 miles [Lemprière's Classical Dictionary, 3rd Edition (1984), p. 447]. Like the Sufis or Whirling Dervishes, the 9 muses are transported to transcendence by Apollo's music, hence their feet are no longer on earth.

10 Lights leaping— beauty to wisdom, kingdom to crown:
I couldn't imagine the 10 Lords leaping to the "10 Commandments" according to the traditional interpretation. Then it occurred to me that the 10 Lords are the 10 Spherical Lights of the Kabbalah's Tree of Life. The spiritual journey from the 10th Light, Kingdom (Malkuth) to the 1st Light, Crown (Kether) passing the 6th Light, Beauty (Beauty) to the 2nd Light, Wisdom (Chokmah) resembles the ascension of the 7 Chakras (Wheels) of the Spine when one experiences enlightenment at the Crown Chakra of the Thousand-Petals Lotus of Bliss.

a fresh new decade— 11 for renewal and rebirth:
Out of the perfect 10, a child is born— the number 11, symbol of renewal & rebirth. When "1" reaches its highest number in the decade, "10", it starts over again, beginning with 11. James Joyce in his Finnegans Wake used the number "1132" frequently to symbolize "The Fall" (32 ft/sec/sec, gravitational constant) and "Resurection" or "Rebirth" (11, the start of a new decade).

12 constellations drumming— The Wise Men are here!: As the 12 hours bring forth a new day and a new night, what's my new insight on the 12th day? I see the three Magi following the Star of Bethlehem to the Christ Child born in a manger. The 12 constellations of the Zodiac drum them onward to discover their center— an inward journey. Thus, their gifts of gold (solid), myrrh (perfume or liquid), and frankincense (incense or vapor) may be a metaphor for the 3 states of H2O: solid (ice), liquid (water), and vapor (steam). When the 3 Kings realize that their gifts to Christ are but 3 different forms of the One Essence (H2O = Christ), they're humbled and toss their crowns to the ground and prostrate to the Christ Child, the King of Kings. In a way, the 12th Day of Christmas prepares us for Epiphany, an Awakening of Magi Consciousness that brings us to the 1st Day when Christ is born not some two millennia ago in a far-away place, but right now in our heart. Now we're awakened (Buddha) and can see as Plato did— "thanking God for the vision in seeing the One in the many, and the many in the One."

— Peter Y. Chou, Mountain View, Epiphany, 1-6-2003

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (1-6-2003)