Archive for December 22nd, 2008

Thanks To Henry VIII For A Christmas Not-So Favorite

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

One of the holiday tunes I have traditionally least enjoyed playing is “The 12 Days Of Christmas.”

Long before we ever get to those “lords a-leaping” and “maids a-milking,” I’ve always been pretty well ready to move on to “Deck The Halls.” But – it turns out – there is much more to this song than meets the ear.

Henry VIII’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn led the Catholic monarch to form a new, official state church cleverly called “The Church Of England.” After searching throughout his realm for someone qualified to lead his fledgling religious undertaking, Henry chanced to look in a mirror – saw himself – and knew he’d found his man.

Thus began 100 years of Catholic persecution in Britain. Many of the faithful left the country. But others went underground, becoming nominally Anglican (but really closet-Catholics.) In order to teach their children the catechism without being outed as “papists,” they wrote a ditty which carefully hid religious instruction between the lines.

The “true love” who bestows all these wonderful gifts is God. But why “a partridge in a pear tree?” Well – any bird will fuss if you come too close to her nest, but partridges will sacrifice their lives for their young. Picture Jesus on a tree.

The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens (gifts fit for a king) are gold, frankincense, and myrrh, while those four calling birds are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

And on it goes, including the Beatitudes, faithful disciples, and Days of Creation – if you know how to decode the lyrics.

Now that I have a basic understanding of the inventiveness (and faithfulness) of these poor people whose only sin was being on the wrong side of Henry’s libido, I don’t have the heart to call their song my least favorite any more.

So – for now – that bumps “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” up to Number 1 on my Yuletide Yuk List. (That is, until someone convinces me that Grandma represents traditional values, while the reindeer stands for the crass commercialization of Christmas, run amok.)