I produced an article on this topic some while ago, which I've copied below for your interest:
The Twelve Days of Christmas
During the period when Catholicism was illegal in England, to escape persecution Catholic parents devised (seemingly) nonsense songs to teach their children the basic doctrine. The Twelve Days of Christmas is an example of such a song.
The True-Love referred to in the song is not an earthly suitor, but God himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptised person.
The tune was not the one that is in use today. The original pre-dates the advent of harmonic music, and is modal in form (based on Gregorian chant).
1) A Partridge in a Pear Tree
A female partridge will feign injury to decoy a predator away from her helpless nestlings, and thus sacrifice herself to save them. The partridge therefore represents Christ. The Cross is represented by the pear tree.
2) Two Turtle Doves
This represents the Old and New Testaments, as these volumes - like turtle doves - once bound together are not separated.
3) Three French Hens
In the 16th Century, only the rich could afford to buy and keep these costly birds. The three things of great value represent the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity (1 Corinthians, 13:13). Alternative explanations are (a) the gifts of the Wise Men; gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11) or (b) the Trinity.
4) Four Colly/Calling/Canary Birds
This represents the preaching of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
5) Five Gold/Golden Rings
The five gold rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - which give the history of Man's fall from grace). These books were treated with great reverence, and were considered to be worth more than gold. (Psalms 19:10). Since Roman times, a ring has symbolised eternal love and commitment.
6) Six Geese a-Laying
An egg is a universal symbol of new life. This represents the six days of the Creation. (Genesis 1). 7) Seven Swans a-Swimming
This represents the seven gifts of God's grace (Romans 12:6-8). i.e. the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith: prophesy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling and shewing mercy. Grace is represented by the swan. 8) Eight Maids a-Milking
The nourishment that we receive from milk represents the spiritual nourishment received from the eight Beatitudes of Christ (Matthew 5:3-10). (1) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (2) Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (3) Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (4) Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (5) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (6) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (7) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (8) Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
9) Nine Ladies, Dancing
Represents the nine fruits of the Trinity (Galatians 5:22-23); love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.
10) Ten Lords a-Leaping
Represents the Ten Commandments received by Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:3-17). Lords: those who command; a-leaping: coming down from on high.
11) Eleven Pipers, Piping
Represents the eleven Apostles who remained faithful to Jesus and joyfully followed and promoted his teaching.
12) Twelve Drummers, Drumming
This represents the twelve beliefs of the Apostles' Creed: (1) I believe in God the Father, maker of Heaven and Earth. (2) I believe in Jesus Christ, the only son our Lord. (3) Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. (4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. (5) The third day he rose again from the dead. (6) He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right-hand of God, the Father Almighty. (7) From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. (8) I believe in the Holy Spirit. (9) The holy Christian church, the communion of saints. (10) The forgiveness of sins. (11) The resurrection of the body. (12) And life everlasting.
[N.B. Biblical references are to the King James (Authorised) Version].
Dodge (Bristol, UK)