I must have left the windows open last night, as I see that news from the outside has somehow blown in and is lying in drifts on the rug this Seventh Day of Xmas of the Two Thousand Fifth year of the Common Era. The Seventh Day of Xmas (for all you Xians out there)...let's see, what is that? Seven geese a-laying? Seven swans a-swimming? I know it's not seven rings; those went to Tolkein's dwarf-kings. According to folklore these seven, uh, geese or swans or whatever--birds, anyway, yeah, these seven birds stand for the seven deadly virtues or something. The seven sacraments. The seven evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, George and Ringo? No, that can't be right. The seven churches the Elder John wrote to in his Apocalypse? They stand for something, anyway. It's all a sort of cipher. Let me tell you how it all came to pass.
You see, back in the old days of once upon a time after Good King Wenceslas was no more, there came a king who knew not X and the ways of the Lord. And he sent a decree to all the land forbidding the practice of Xianity in all its glory, except for the one festival of Xmas. And Xmas, he decreed, must be celebrated with no mention of X, except in the word Xmas itself. And all the people groaned, for they felt sore oppressed.
How can we teach our children the true meaning of Xmas? the people cried. How can we teach them of the four evangelists, the twelve apostles, the two testaments, and the one X Himself? How indeed can we keep Xianity alive?
And a wise man among them rose and said, "If Santa and Frosty can boldly go forth this Xmastide, and only X dare not show His face, then we must craft a mask for Him. Let it be made of the fluffiest of Xmas nonsense, the nose of Rudolph, the kiss of the mistletoe, the lights of the Holiday Tree. But that will be only the outer face; inside will be the apostles, the evangelists, and even X Himself!"
"But how can that be?" exclaimed all the Xians in unison.
"Well," said the wise man, "let us consider the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed, one for each of the twelve apostles. These are the points we must drum into the children. And what could be more exquisitely symbolic of these points than twelve drummers, each drumming away to beat the band?"
"Well, uh, maybe..." all the Xians said.
"And the eleven faithful disciples who carried the word to the eleven corners of the earth, are they not exactly like eleven pipers piping?"
And the people were silent, amazed by the words that came out of his mouth.
Now, somewhat nettled by the peoples' refusal to understand, the wise man demanded of them, "Now, what about lords? What do they suggest to you?"
"The payment of taxes?" ventured one Xian cautiously.
"Loud drunken parties at night?" suggested another.
"No," said the wise man impatiently, "Something to do with Xianity."
"Our Lord and Savior Jesus X?" said another Xian.
"No no no no no," said the wise man, "not at all. Lords, plural. Ten of them. Ten leaping lords."
And there was a blank silence upon the crowd, and some began edging quietly away.
"The ten commandments," said the wise man. "Do they not suggest the ten commandments, the lords of our conduct, leaping out like flames of fire to caution us?"
"Uh, yeah, okay," said all the Xians in unison.
"Now think of ladies, nine of them, dancing--what do they suggest to you?"
"An Xmas ball!" exclaimed a Xian woman.
"No! Isn't it obvious?" said the wise man, visibly striving to control his temper. "Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the spirit."
"The what?" exclaimed the crowd, and some of them left quickly by the back way, for they were beginning to feel sore oppressed again.
"The nine fruits of the spirit--look it up," snapped the wise man. "It's in Galatians 5:22-3: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance."
"This is a key doctrine?" asked a Xian doubtfully.
"It's in the good book, isn't it?" replied the wise man.
"Now I get it," called out one Xian. "When Rudolph and Frosty and Santa go forth, we will send with them twelve drummers and eleven pipers and ten lords and nine ladies to set forth the points of the apostles creed and the nine fruits of the spirit and they will drown them out with their noise and bedlam."
And the wise man groaned and held his head, for now he was feeling sore oppressed. "No, I'm not suggesting street theater," he said. "What I'm talking about is a simple Xmas song, a song we can teach the children, a song that only they will know embodies the most sacred principles of Xianity."
"How would that work?" asked all the remaining Xians in unison.
"Like this." And the wise man found his pitch with a tuning fork and sang, "On the first day of Xmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree."
"And this has a secret meaning the children will recognize?"
"Yes, of course. For the outsiders this will be an ordinary secular love between one man and one woman, but the children will know that it is the love of X for the Church."
"And the partridge?"
"The partridge is obviously Jesus X Himself."
"And the pipers will play this and the drummers drum along with it, and the lords and ladies will sing it?"
"No, they're part of the song. There's more." Again the wise man sang, "On the second day of Xmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree."
"Oh, I see!" exlaimed a Xian. "The dove represents the Holy Spirit, and there are two of them to represent the two descents of the Spirit, at X's baptism and at Pentecost!"
"Seems to me," said another, "the two doves could just as well represent the two shoes we put on every morning before going to work."
"No," said the wise man, "the two turtle-doves are obviously the Old and New Testaments."
"And the partridge?"
"I told you, that's X Himself."
"But that was the partridge on the first day--this is a second partridge. Are you suggesting that there are two Xs?"
"The partridge is always Jesus X. Now," and once again the wise man sang, "On the third day of Xmas my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree."
"Are you calling the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost three French hens?" asked one Xian incredulously.
"No, the three French hens are faith, hope, and love, out of First Corinthians 13," said the wise man.
"You know, we're going to need a special underground school to teach the kids all of this."
"On the fourth day of Xmas," sang the wise man doggedly, "my true love gave to me four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree."
"And the four colly birds are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?" asked a Xian.
"Now you're catching on," said the wise man, and he sang again, "On the fifth day of Xmas my true love gave to me five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree."
"And the five golden rings are?"
"The five books of the Pentateuch."
"Oh, of course," said a Xian. "And we're going to keep this up for twelve verses?"
"So what about six, seven, and eight?"
"Well, obviously, we'll have eight maids a-milking to represent the eight beatitudes, seven swans a-swimming for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and six geese a-laying to stand in for the six days of creation. What could be simpler?"
"Well, maybe setting up underground schools to secretly teach the kids the true meaning of Xmas and Xianity without all these geese and drummers and partridges. And by the way, I still don't get how all twelve partridges can stand for Jesus X."
"The point is," said the wise man, "that this simple seemingly-innocent Xmas song will help drum the true meaning of Xmas into the children's heads, and thus save Xianity from oppression by the secular overlords."
And so it came to pass that every year when Xmas came, the little children sang of the twelve days of Xmas, and none but they knew of the secret theological significance that lay inside the twenty-two pipers piping, the forty-two geese a-laying, or the twelve partridges in pear trees.
ReligionProf Podcast with Katie Day and Deirdre Good - My guests on this week’s podcast are Deirdre Good, whom I had the pleasure to meet when I guest taught a class at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan...
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