The origins of “The 12 Days of Christmas”


Provided by MGS

Christmas carols can be heard far and wide from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas Day.

“The 12 Days of Christmas” is one of the most recognizable carols, and for good reason, as the popular song can trace its history back several centuries. Researchers have traced the earliest printed version of the poem on which the song is based all the way back to 1780. That’s three years before the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War.

The song has long been suspected to have been a way for Catholics in Britain to teach their children the catechism, as the 1700s was a controversial period for Catholicism in the country. However, no documentary evidence exists in support of that theory, and many historians feel it is inaccurate.

Others indicate that, while 1780 is likely the first time the poem was printed, the poem is likely much older than that, with origins potentially in France or Scotland. What is known is that the version many people recognize today, namely in song form, can be traced to the early twentieth century, when English singer and composer Frederic Austin first popularized the melody for the song. Austin performed that version of the song beginning in 1905, and it was first published in 1909.