Several years ago I read the story that was circulating regarding the origin of the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas is actually a catechism song so the explanation claimed. See the Fournier's explanation at Our Domestic Church. com for more information on the symbols. We do know that between the years 1558-1829, English Catholics were not permitted to practice their faith openly and were often brutally persecuted. Without regular mass, sacraments, or catechism lessons from the priest, there was little parents could do to help their children learn and remember all articles of their faith. Based on casual references to the song he found in letters from the 16-17th centuries, Fr. Hal Stockert wrote that the song was created to keep the Catholic faith in their lives. In subsequent years the validity of this story has been questioned and Fr. Hal issued a postscript to his article:
It has come to our attention that this tale is made up of both fact and fiction. Hopefully it will be accepted in the spirit it was written. As an encouragement to people to keep their faith alive, when it is easy, and when any outward expressions of their faith could mean their life. Today there are still people living under similar conditions, may this tale give them courage, and determination to use any creative means at their disposal to keep their faith alive.
And the Fourniers have commented in a similar manner.
I say, "Whatever works, use." Mothers, fathers, families and teachers are using 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as a catechism NOW. It works for them. That's good. Some day scholars will examine some of the documents Father Hal read and the story will be documented in a reference book that everyone can read.
Well, what does this all have to do with St. Edmund Campion, you might ask. During this early part of Advent in our home, I have for many years associated St. Edmund Campion with this song due to the time period in question. Today, his feast day, is the day we add the partridge in the pear tree ornament to our advent tree in recognition of this saint.
St. Edmund Campion was a Jesuit priest and martyr during this period of persecution in England. He fled from England during the early persecutions but he returned to England to teach the faith and offer the sacraments in secret. He was the object of one of the most intense manhunts in English history. He was eventually captured, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and when he refused to apostatize, was tortured and then hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on December 1, 1581.
Share the story of Edmund Campion with your family, reflect on the possible symbolism of the song as a catechism in a time of persecution, and make a partridge picture or ornament. Your can download an outline of a partridge in a pear tree here. We traced the shapes onto colored scrapbooking paper, cut the shapes out, and glued on white paper. [NOTE: Typepad won't let me upload the partridge pattern right now. Leave a comment if you want a copy and I'll send an attachment to you.]