Which are ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and what are the lyrics to the song?

27 November 2019, 10:07 | Updated: 27 November 2019, 10:08

By Sian Hamer

It comes up every Christmas, and every year you forget the words (bar ‘Five Gold Rings’, of course). Here’s a handy guide to ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, including its lyrics and meaning.

‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a cumulative song that runs through the twelve days that make up the Christmas season – beginning on Christmas Day and ending on 6 January, the day before Epiphany.

Each day represents a new gift, starting with ‘a partridge in a pear tree’ and ending with ‘twelve drummers drumming’.

The earliest known version of the song appeared in the 1700s, and some historians actually believe the traditional English tune has French origins.

Read more: The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time >

But the version we know best came from Frederic Austin, an English composer who set the lyrics and added some flourishes – including the drawn out “five go-old rings” – in 1909.

The carol is a cumulative song, which simply means that each verse is built on top of the previous verses.

A partridge in a pear tree
A partridge in a pear tree. Picture: Getty

What are the lyrics to ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’?

On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Twelve drummers drumming
Twelve drummers drumming. Picture: Getty

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

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