The Twelve Days of Christmas (song) - Lyrics - Variations

Variations

There are many variations of this song in which the last four objects are arranged in a different order (for example—twelve lords a-leaping, eleven ladies (or dames a-) dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming). At least one version has "ten fiddlers fiddling," and another has "nine ladies waiting." Still another version alters the fourth gift to "four mockingbirds."

The text of the earliest printed version in English (as reproduced in the Iona and Peter Opies' The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes), is as follows:

The twelfth day of Christmas, | My true love sent to me | Twelve lords a-leaping, | Eleven pipers piping, | Ten ladies dancing, | Nine drummers drumming, | Eight maids a-milking, | Seven swans a-swimming, | Six geese a-laying, | Five gold rings, | Four colly birds, | Three French hens, | Two turtle doves, and | A partridge in a pear tree.

There are some regional variants of the verb in the opening line of each verse. In the United States the true love sometimes "gave" the gifts to the singer. In the British version, the true love "sent" the gifts to the singer, but "said" is also found (for example as sung by Kate Rusby).

In American versions of the song, the fourth day's gift is often four "calling" birds instead of "colly" birds, a British term for the European blackbird. William S. and Ceil Baring-Gould suggest that the “the presents sent of the first seven days were all birds—-the “Five gold rings” were not actually gold rings, but refer to the five golden rings of the ringed pheasant." Others suggest the gold rings refer to "five goldspinks"—a goldspink being an old name for a Goldfinch; or even canaries.

A minor variant includes the singing of "golden" rather than "gold" rings, to avoid having to stretch "gold" into two syllables ("go-old").

Variation in the lyrics of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", from nineteenth-century sources
Source Giver 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Halliwell, 1842 My mother sent to me Partridge in a pear-tree Turtle doves French hens Canary birds Gold rings Geese a laying Swans a swimming Ladies dancing Lords a leaping Ships a sailing Ladies spinning Bells ringing
Halliwell, 1853 My true love sent to me Partridge in a pear tree Turtle doves French hens Colly birds Gold rings Geese a laying Swans a swimming Maids a milking Drummers drumming Pipers piping Ladies dancing Lords a leaping
Salmon, 1855 My true-love sent to me Partridge upon a pear-tree Turtle-doves French hens Collie birds Gold rings Geese a-laying Swans a-swimming Maids a-milking Drummers drumming Pipers piping Ladies dancing Lords a-leaping
Cliftonian, 1867 My true-love sent to me Partridge in a pear-tree Turtle-doves French hens Colley birds Gold rings Ducks a-laying Swans swimming Hares a-running Ladies dancing Lords a-leaping Badgers baiting Bells a-ringing
Clark, 1875 My true love sent to me Partridge in a pear tree Turtle doves French hens Colour'd birds Gold rings Geese laying Swans swimming Maids milking Drummers drumming Pipers piping Ladies dancing Lords leaping
Henderson, 1879 My true love sent to me Partridge upon a pear tree Turtle doves French hens Curley birds Gold rings Geese laying Swans swimming Maids milking Drummers drumming Pipers piping --- ---
Stokoe, 1888 My true love sent to me Partridge on a pear tree Turtle doves French hens Colly birds Gold rings Geese a-laying Swans a-swimming Maids a-milking Drummers drumming Pipers piping Ladies dancing Lords a leaping
Scott, 1892 My true love brought to me Very pretty peacock upon a pear tree Turtle-doves French hens Corley birds GOLD RINGS Geese a-laying Swans a-swimming Maids a-milking Pipers playing Drummers drumming Lads a-louping Ladies dancing
Cole, 1900 My true love sent to me Parteridge upon a pear tree Turtle doves French hens Colly birds Gold rings Geese a laying Squabs a swimming Hounds a running Bears a beating Cocks a crowing Lords a leaping Ladies a dancing

Read more about this topic:  The Twelve Days Of Christmas (song), Lyrics

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