Tag Archives: The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas – Last Part – 7 Swans a-Swimming + all the rest!

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12DaysChristmasBIRDS-1Exploring the 12 Days of Christmas History and Life in the 18th Century  

By Christine Henrichs – originally published in Backyard Poultry Magazine (2013)

This is part of a series  based on the popular Carol – that starts – ‘On the First Day of Christmas. my True Love sent to me – a Partridge in a Pear Tree.’

I have been running this series over the Christmas Holidays – starting with  Part 1.  You can find the full text of the Carol HERE.

Officially the 12th Day of Christmas is the 5th of January – or as Wikipedia says The Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as Twelvetide, is a festive Christian season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus Christ. In most Western ecclesiastical traditions, “Christmas Day” is considered the “First Day of Christmas” and the Twelve Days are 25 December – 5 January, inclusive.

However many communities actually celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January, Epiphany, instead of the 25th December.  

This series, based on the article in the American Poultry Magazine,  has attempted to link all the Gifts in the Carol with either poultry or a species of birds, and up to the 7th Day, it sort of works.  

When it comes to 8 Maids a-Milking , 9 Ladies Dancing, 10 Lords a-Leaping, 11 Pipers Piping and 12 Drummers Drumming, I’m not sure you can stretch the analogy that far!  People have tried to find various links, including  Hugh D. McKellar, a Canadian hymnologist, who published an article, in 1979 – “How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas”.  He suggested that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” lyrics were intended as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalised in England (1558 until 1829).  This hypothesis has now been found to be incorrect!  So who knows?

So, I’m going to stop at:

Seven Swans A-Swimming

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…seven swans-a-swimming.”

Seven-Swans-Swimming

Seven Swans a-Swimming – well a pair of adults and their 5 cygnets. Swans mate for life.

Swans are one of the most charismatic birds. Their graceful flight and peaceful beauty as they glide across the water have inspired humans to find spiritual meaning in them. Iron Age Britons, eighth century BC and later, considered them supernatural. Mute swans are the traditional birds of folklore. Although migratory, they became semi-domesticated in Britain by the 10th century.

Richard the Lionhearted is often credited with bringing swans to England on his return from the Crusades in the 12th century, but some documentation shows swans being kept as far back as 966, during the reign of King Edgar.

It was in the 12th century that the Crown claimed ownership of all swans. In the 15th century, swan ownership was shared with the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies. That continues today, with an annual ceremony called Swan Upping, in which cygnets, baby swans, are captured, weighed, checked for health problems, banded and released.

So, the 12 Days of Christmas meaning behind Seven Swans-A-Swimming would have had royal as well as spiritual connotations.

In the 17th century, Mute Swans were semi-domesticated in England. In the Netherlands, they were farmed, for their down, their meat and as ornamental birds, according to Sylvia Bruce Wilmore, in her book, Swans of the World.  In the Netherlands, those practices continued until after World War II.  Because all swans in England belong officially to the Royal Family, swans given as gifts would have been marked on the upper part of their bills. Their markings identified the person who had responsibility for them and thus could benefit from them. Marks date back to 1370.

Today in the U.S., migratory waterfowl are protected by state and federal laws. Permits are required to keep wild birds legally. If you are in any doubt about birds you are considering acquiring, check with the state department of fish and game, parks and wildlife or natural resources.

mute swan

Mute swan (Cygnus olor) spreading its wings. photo by Adrian Pingstone

Mute swans are controversial residents along the East Coast, where they have displaced local Trumpeter swans. Mute swans have been acquired as decorative waterfowl for parks and estates, but easily escape and become feral. They are now regarded as unwanted invaders, trashing the fragile wetland habitat in which they live and chasing out native birds. To avoid those problems, the state of New Hampshire requires by law that Mute swans be pinioned, an operation done on young cygnets to remove the distal joint of the wing, making flight impossible. They retain their mythic grip on people, touching the hearts of those who glimpse them gliding across a misty lake. This dichotomy confounds wetlands managers who want at least to control Mute Swans, if not eliminate them entirely.

“They are a beautiful form of biological pollution,” said Jonathan McKnight, associate director for habitat conservation at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources. Others disagree, citing Mute Swans’ circumpolar migratory route, and claim that they have a historic presence in North America.

Current wildlife control professionals hunt them to reduce the population, which has been successful. Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are unquestionably native birds to North America. They remain protected. (I have added the paragraph below, as well as all the pictures of Swans)

trumpeterswans

3 Trumpeter Swans flying

Trumpeter swan, Black-billed species (Cygnus cygnus buccinator) of swan, named for its far-carrying, low-pitched call. About 6 ft (1.8 m) long, with a 10-ft (3-m) wingspan, it is the largest swan, though it weighs less than the mute swan. Once threatened with extinction (fewer than 100 were counted in the U.S. in 1935), it has made a strong comeback; though still listed as vulnerable, its population in western Canada and the northwestern U.S. now exceeds 5,000.

 

I haven’t found any evidence that swans were ever raised commercially in North America. They are wild birds, the largest flying bird, and formidable aggressors willing to protect their nests. Swans-A-Swimming remain a lovely image, but one not practical for domestic production.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and maybe even learnt something useful! Please do leave a comment and let me know what you think!

 

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The Twelve Days of Christmas: Part 7 – 6 Geese A-Laying

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12DaysChristmasBIRDS-1Exploring the 12 Days of Christmas History and Life in the 18th Century  

By Christine Henrichs – originally published in Backyard Poultry Magazine (2013)

This is part of a series I have been running over the Christmas Holidays – see Part 1

Six Geese A-Laying

Geese certainly were part of English and French life in the 16th century and long before. Geese have been hunted and tamed and domesticated since the early days of settled agricultural life. West of England Geese, also known as Old English geese, may well be the breed that came over with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. They were an important American regional breed, particularly in New England.

Goose is the traditional festive bird for the holiday feast. When raising geese for meat, it’s important to note that geese do not thrive in the intense husbandry conditions of modern agriculture, so they are not as plentiful as they were in the 18th century when every farm had some. Most American cooks have never roasted one, so recipes have disappeared. Prominent chef Nigella Lawson is a champion of goose. Because they are waterfowl, they have a layer of fat under the skin. When you roast goose, it naturally bastes itself. The fat is flavorful and can be used to toast vegetables and other meats. Food critic Bonny Wolf calls goose fat “the creme de la creme of fat.”

The two main types of domestic geese are those descended from the European Grey Lag Goose and those from the Asian Swan Goose. The European line gives us the domestic Embdens, Toulouse and all their American descendants, such as Pilgrim Geese. The Asian line gives us the African and China breeds, with their distinctive knobs.

Wild geese have lived closely with humans for centuries. Even as little as a century ago, they were maintained as semi-wild livestock in England. Villagers let their geese forage and live on the River Cam. The geese spent the spring and summer on the village green, then migrated to the river for the winter.

In February, the owners would call their geese, which responded to their voices and returned home to nest and rear their young. Those offspring were a significant contribution to the villagers’ income. Those Geese A-Laying were valued not only for the eggs themselves, but for the additional birds into which the eggs would hatch.

Despite centuries of domestication, geese remain seasonal egg layers. (In fact, it seems that most Geese aren’t actually laying this early.) Some modern breeds such as the China goose have been selected for laying, bringing their production of eggs up to 70 or more annually. Some breeds of ducks have become more productive egg layers with selective breeding over time.

The eggs are reputed to be superior for baking. The albumen is thicker than that of chicken eggs, making it unsuitable for whipping into meringue. The higher fat content of the yolk makes them desirable for baking. The good news about having Geese A-Laying would be that the goslings would soon follow. Geese are excellent parents and protectively raise their young.

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geese with goslings

The Gift of 6 Geese a Laying would have been quite valuable! This is a picture I found of two Canada Geese looking after 40 goslings on the Thames in Reading .

Grahame Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: ‘Canada geese are well known for forming creches.  You tend to get them in areas where you have quite a large number of nesting geese in a small area. The broods get mixed up and you get a few adults looking after a large number of goslings.’
Canada geese were introduced here in the 17th century.
Like swans, they are monogamous and will only seek out a new mate if their partner dies.

Although so-called geese ‘creches’ – where the offspring of different parents get mixed up – are fairly common, experts say this is one of the largest and most understaffed they have seen.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Part 6 – 5 Gold Rings

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My “12 days of Christmas Sale” is running in my ETSY SHOP 

****** For more details, please see my previous post  ******

Exploring the 12 Days of Christmas History and Life in the 18th Century  

Five Gold Rings

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Illustration of “five gold rings”, from the first known publication of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (1780)

I’m deviating from the original article I have been basing this series on for the 5th Day of Christmas, as its difficult enough to relate Gold Rings to birds, although this “may have referred to Ring-Necked Pheasants, or perhaps to Golden Pheasants. Those original meanings unify the verses around a bird motif.

Both of them are natives of Asia but have long had successful populations in Europe and the British Isles. The Romans probably introduced them to Europe during their Empire. Pheasant were accepted residents of Britain by the 10th century.” 

I’m not convinced this is the best interpretation!  After all, the whole song is not just about birds, but it’s fun to try and link them anyway – and FIVE gold rings do seem to be a bit excessive, even if it was for a ‘true love’!

The Radio 4 “Tweet of the Day” has chosen another bird, and you can hear it here;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09jgnf4#play

a British Goldfinch in flight showing the yellow ‘flash’ on wing feathers – some American Goldfinch have bright yellow bodies!

“As actress Alison Steadman outlines the refrain Five Gold Rings in the song is a recent thing, having emerged as an Edwardian addition to the song when Frederic Austen composed the music we know and love today. Yet in the century before that, a small colourful bird captivated Victorian society like no other. The goldfinch.”

PS:  In the past, some international readers have had problems listening to BBC iPlayer links – especially in the USA.  If you manage to get to the page without any problems, you may be able to download the file – its only 2 minutes long – and listen to it on iTunes.

Please do let me know if you have any difficulties, or even if you can access it – as its good to know.  You may have to register with the BBC site – this is a consequence of the new rules and regulations on paying for tv licences if you watch programmes online. A pity really, because the BBC always prided itself that it was available worldwide!

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Part 5 – 4 Calling Birds

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My “12 days of Christmas Sale” has started in my ETSY SHOP

****** For more details, please see my previous post  ******

Exploring the 12 Days of Christmas History and Life in the 18th Century  

By Christine Henrichs – originally published in Backyard Poultry Magazine (2013) – I have added a few photos and modified the text slightly!

 12DaysChristmasBIRDS-1Four Calling Birds

 

In the Carol ” The Twelve Days of Christmas”,  Day Four, the “calling” birds were originally “collie” or “colley” birds, meaning black-as-coal blackbirds. My poultry mind wants to stretch and consider that they could have been black domestic fowls, such as the old French breeds, all of which were often black, or black Spanish chickens.

Black turkeys also were popular in the 18th century in Europe. ( see photo at end of post)

 

blackbird

A very black Blackbird! Not sure why they should have been a gift to a ‘true love’, but they were thought to have magical powers, and are well known for their beautiful ‘song’, so maybe they are in fact “calling birds’ – smile

Black fowl lost favor because the dark feathers show up in the skin of the bird prepared for the table, unlike white feathers. In the 19th century, white birds lost popularity because they were thought to be constitutionally weak. Fashions in food are as variable as fashions in dress.

rooster

jersey giant cockerel

Many breeds have modern black color varieties. American breeds such as Javas, Jersey Giants, sometimes called Black Giants, and the English Orpington have black heritage. Asian breeds such as Cochins and Langshans have a strong history of black plumage. Sumatras are always black.

Black varieties of Orientals are relatively recent, such as Malays and Cubalayas. Among Mediterranean breeds, the White-Faced Black Spanish is an old breed. Minorcas were originally an entirely black breed called Red-Faced Black Spanish.

cayugas

cayuga duck

Black East Indies ducks are an old breed, although whether they date back to the 17th century is a matter of discussion. Some authorities trace their history back only as far as the 19th century. Cayuga ducks are always black. The recognition of the breed dates back to the 19th century, but it originated from wild American Black ducks crossing with domestic ducks. A black variety of Runner ducks is recent, 20th century. Black ducks could fit the description of “colley” birds.

Black turkeys were popular in Europe, and after Columbus introduced the wild turkey, American colonists crossing the Atlantic brought domesticated black varieties with them. Turkeys were often known by their origin as well, such as the Norfolk Black and the Black Spanish.

In domestic poultry, black plumage has an iridescent quality that gives it a greenish sheen, sometimes complemented with violet. The feathers are truly beautiful and eye-catching, suitable for a gift that would honor the season.

black turkey

A ‘spanish style’ Black Turkey

10% OFF EVERTHING in my Etsy Shop

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new etsy banner

My “12 days of Christmas Sale” has started in my ETSY SHOP

As I explained in my last post, its actually 10 days and goes on until 3 January.

All my listings have been reduced by 10% for this period, and there is no need to add any secret code to get the discount – you will see the usual price and the sale price on the listing – so just buy anything you want NOW!  If you want to just browse, do ‘favourite’ any items you are interested in, so you can find them easily when you have made your decision.

Below is a small selection of the listings – there are over 100 of them – so you might well find something you didn’t know I sold! click here for my Etsy Shop.

I am aware that many of you are not registered with Etsy, but you can have a look without registering, and can buy as a visitor if you don’t want to give them all your information!  The sale does not apply to any listings I have on ebay, and in any case, I think all of them have just expired, and will be renewed after 3 January, or not at all!

Apologies to anyone looking for the Mawata Silk Hankies, they have been the most popular item ever since I got back to selling – I have run out of stock – and couldn’t find anymore on my suppliers list either.  I hope to re-stock as soon as possible.

I’m just listening to Radio 4 as I write this and it turns out that I am not the only person doing a little series on the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS CAROL!  They are doing the 12 tweets of Christmas – also on birds!  If you want to listen to them, I’m sure they will be on the Radio iPlayer page of the BBC website.

I will, I hope, finally get round to writing the next episode of the series tomorrow – on the Three French Hens! If you want to see The Partridge in a Pear Tree post, click here!

The Twelve Days of Christmas – Lyrics (Part 3)

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This is the third part of my little series of the Twelve Days of Christmas – see my previous two posts – part 1 & part 2

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Just before I go on – I want to wish all my readers – and my many followers a very

MERRY CHRISTMAS
and I hope you have a peaceful time
over the holiday period!
And – to let you know that my Etsy Shop will remain open and that for almost the Twelve Days of Christmas (which is normally taken to be the period from Christmas Day to Epiphany 6 January)  

from 25 December to 3 January

there will be 10% OFF all listings

new etsy banner

As this is a very well known Christmas Carol, I was assuming that most people knew what I was talking about – but a couple of people have asked me for the Lyrics, and it makes a lot more sense if you know why various sections have been picked out to talk about the symbolism of the birds mentioned.  They are copied in full below.  Of course, they are repetitive, because the Carol is sung in the form of a game, adding an extra line each time, and if you want to know a bit more about the history of the Carol and the changes made to the Lyrics over the centuries there is a very informative page on Wikipedia.

12DaysChristmasBIRDS-1On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the third day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree1

On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree1

On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree1

On the tenth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Ten Lords a Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree1

On the eleventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Eleven Pipers Piping
Ten Lords a Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree1

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
12 Drummers Drumming
Eleven Pipers Piping
Ten Lords a Leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking
Seven Swans a Swimming
Six Geese a Laying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

THE NEXT EPISODE – PART 4 – WILL BE ABOUT THE THREE FRENCH HENS