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Noel - twelve days

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1217881.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 2:56 am Reply with quote

Is there a Latin origin for ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?
I saw a reference to this perhaps 50 years ago (in the Readers’ Digest I think) and believe that the suggested meaning for the first line ‘A partridge in a pear tree’ (anglicised from ‘Et parturit in aperto’) was ‘And gave birth in the open’.
Lines 4&3 (4 collybirds/calling birds and 3 French hens) were rendered as ‘de collibus, descendens’ which translate as ‘coming down from the hills’.
I do not recall any other lines being given in the source I first saw.
It seems to me that the Latin words are too similar to the subsequent English version to be a coincidence and it certainly seems more fascinating that perhaps the original may have been a Latin carol (telling of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth ‘in the open’ i.e. a stable instead of an inn) rather than, as I have subsequently been told, some secret aide-memoire to Catholic doctrine during periods of persecution. Perhaps it could simply be a jolly festive song!

1217886.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 3:12 am Reply with quote

Hi (no Ho) Silver!

That snippet is just delicious. The Partridge is just a Mondegreen!
(or a deliberate phonetic translation).
Thanks for that one. :-D

1217897.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 4:24 am Reply with quote

Is there a Latin origin for ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?

Solemnitas Epiphaniae Domini. The song may be French:

Wikipedia wrote:
"Twelve days of Christmas" was adapted from similar New Years' or spring French carols, of which at least three are known, all featuring a partridge, perdriz or perdriole, as the first gift. The pear tree appears in only the English version, but this could also indicate a French origin. According to Iona and Peter Opie, the red-legged (or French) partridge perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge and was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770. Cecil Sharp observed that "from the constancy in English, French, and Languedoc versions of the 'merry little partridge,' I suspect that 'pear-tree' is really perdrix (Old French pertriz) carried into England"; and "juniper tree" in some English versions may have been "joli perdrix," pretty partridge. Sharp also suggests the adjective "French" in "three French hens", probably simply means "foreign".

1217900.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 5:20 am Reply with quote

To (you and) 'yorz (from me and mine)
Thanks. At last someone else who appreciates it. I've been fascinated by the possibility for 50 years. My hope has always been that 1. somebody might also have recalled seeing the original info and 2. (Hope against hope) some Latin scholar could have hazarded a guess as to what '2 turtle doves' could have been.
Christmas greetings to you.

1217908.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 5:33 am Reply with quote

A pleasant Yule to you, too.
I have forwarded your post to quite a few of my friends who are thrilled to bits, according to their immediate reactions. :-)

1217909.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 6:00 am Reply with quote

Any Latin scholars among them?!!
I wonder if Cambridge University Latin professor or students could see any possible Latin/English eqivalents which would also bear a nativity connotation. Perhaps it will be worth a try in the new term.

1217910.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 6:23 am Reply with quote

Sorry - no. Their and my delight just springs from our appreciation of anything silly/unexpected/linguistically interesting.

That said, there are some clever clogs (hah) here who may be able to shed some light.

1217918.  Fri Dec 23, 2016 7:25 am Reply with quote

French origins aside: stranger things have happened when people without any knowledge of Latin spends some time with texts in Latin. School choirs, for example.
The quite solemn phrase "spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma" can easily end up loosely translated to "Carol was drink-drivng in the company car", followed by "She'd volunteerd to drive the Fiat". ("Fiat voluntas tua").

Or somesuch.
The upshot of this is that I can still remember the Latin text more than 30 years later.

1218056.  Sat Dec 24, 2016 4:51 pm Reply with quote

Snopes has a lot to say about the Twelve Days of Christmas
Sadly, the partridges born in the open field do not feature. :-)

1218677.  Fri Dec 30, 2016 5:04 pm Reply with quote

Silver wrote:
(Hope against hope) some Latin scholar could have hazarded a guess as to what '2 turtle doves' could have been.
Christmas greetings to you.

Turtle doves appear in the Song of Solomon (or do they?) in the part that celebrates the arrival of Spring.

2:12 "The flowers appear on the Earth, the time of the singing of birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

Some translations just use "turtle dove" whilst others just use "dove".

Some people think that the turtle dove is so called because its plumage, when seen from above, resembles the patterns on a turtle (tortoise shell), though I believe the real reason is that its song is "tur tur".

The reference in the Song of Solomon most likely refers to "something that creeps upon the Earth", probably frogs whose voices can be heard in the spring. There are other references to spring in the "12 Days" song, notably the "six geese a laying": birds don't lay eggs in Winter.

This is just a suggestion, mind you.

1219586.  Thu Jan 05, 2017 4:26 pm Reply with quote

As a child I was always taught the "five gold rings" but it seems that the predominant version in the USA says "five golden rings".

Alexander Howard
1221030.  Fri Jan 13, 2017 7:29 am Reply with quote

There is a lovely book called The Thirteen Days of Christmas, by Jenny Overton (gorgeously illustrated by Shirley Hughes, who wrote the Alfie books). We read it to the children, but it can be enjoyed by all.

In an anywhen Tudor / late Mediaeval provincial town a maid is wooed by a wealthy young merchant who brings a partridge in a pear tree, then the next day two turtle doves, and another partridge in a pear tree, then the next day....

Soon the yard fills up with trees, birds, feathers, eggs, and the mayor is threatening action over his streets being filled with pipers and dancing ladies, and the townsfolk start singing a ribald song about it all. The story is a conduit to explore lost Christmastide traditions.

1221046.  Fri Jan 13, 2017 9:15 am Reply with quote

Sounds delightful :-)

1221090.  Fri Jan 13, 2017 12:22 pm Reply with quote

Originally published in 1972, which was twelve years before Irish actor Frank Kelly (later to become better known as Father Jack) gave the world his Christmas Countdown.

Mr Kelly's monologue was actually written by an Irish playwright named Hugh Leonard. Mr Leonard wrote plenty of pieces for the Dublin stage and also the screenplay for the exceptionally silly movie Percy. But had he by any chance read Ms Overton's book?


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