The history of Silent Night and The Twelve Days of Christmas

Did you know that even though The Twelve Days of Christmas doesn’t seem to have a religious theme, it does carry a religious message? Or that Silent Night was composed because the church organ broke on Christmas Eve?

Read the fascinating stories behind two of the most popular Christmas Carols >

The Twelve Days of Christmas > The Twelve Days of Christmas is different from other Christmas carols, because it doesn’t seem to have a religious theme and it doesn’t deal with the Nativity. But although words like, gold, music, dancing and food and drink, seem to be about the bounty of the Christmas season they do carry a religious message.

The song was written at a time in England when Catholic worship was illegal, (1558-1829 CE). During this time Catholics could be imprisoned or even executed if they were caught practising their faith, so they had to come up with secret ways of worshipping.

The Twelve Days of Christmas was one of many catechisms (writings that teach the basic elements of Catholicism) that were written at this time. These catechisms were unusual because their secular wording masked their true meaning.

The partridge in the pear tree is said to symbolise Jesus Christ, a mother partridge protecting her nestlings (Jesus’s followers).

Two turtle doves. The Old and the New Testaments.

Three French hens. The Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Four calling birds. The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Five gold rings. The first five books of the Old Testament telling the story of man’s fall from grace.

Six geese a laying. The six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Eight maids a-milking. The eight Beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing. The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Ten lords a-leaping. The Ten Commandments.

Eleven pipers piping. The eleven faithful disciples.

Twelve drummers drumming. The twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed. 

Silent Night > Silent Night is one of the world’s most popular Christmas carols. Every year it is sung in many different languages throughout the world. Its popularity is owed to its peaceful melody and its simple narration of the Christmas tale.

The story of this song comes from the town of Oberndorf, Bavaria in the winter of 1818. The priest of this town was a young man and also a musician called Joseph Mohr.

On Christmas Eve that year, the church organ was broken and it could not be fixed until the snow melted in the spring. Joseph was not disheartened and was determined that there would be music that Christmas. He remembered a simple poem he had written two years earlier and thought if only he could find an alternative instrument and suitable melody they could sing it in church. He asked his church organist, a man named Franz Gruber, to look at the poem and see what he could do.

Franz was startled by how good the poem was and, used to writing music at short notice, came up with a soothing lullaby to accompany Joseph’s words. That evening the song was sung in the local church with only a guitar as accompaniment.

By 1955 this carol, from such humble origins, had become the most recorded song of all time. 

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6 Responses to “The history of Silent Night and The Twelve Days of Christmas”

  1. chloe

    i love how yall put the story it is so easy to use for research it is the best i have looked at so far

  2. grhomeboy

    Thank you Chloe! Your comment is so encouraging.

    Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year 2007!

  3. Ben

    It’good to know history.Also especially on silent knight ,how GOD can take something wrong and make it right.

  4. Anna Smith

    I had no knowledge of the origins of these two songs and really loved reading about it. Many thanks. Anna

  5. Kristina

    I agree with Chloe. It is so easy for research.

  6. katie

    wow i saw another version of this story this one was a little shorter but im doing a report on it and i think this is perfect for my report merry christmas

    katie