are maids a milking birds

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me… two turtle doves”

We were taken aback to see this species on the Christmas lineup, simply because turtle doves typically travel to the UK in the summer and not the winter. Like many other birds, turtle doves have become less common over time, making it occasionally even harder to spot them in the summer. Nevertheless, they are a stunning bird with delicate feathers. Theyre darker than pigeons have a gentle temperament.

“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true sent to me… eight maids-a-milking”

We meet the maids-a-milking just when you thought you’d reached a section that couldn’t possibly be about birds. These birds are called cattle egrets. They take advantage of the cattle by living close to them. The movement of the cattle disturbs the earth’s worms and other insects, which makes it easier for the cattle egrets to find a quick snack. Would you like these clever birds in your Christmas stocking?.

The version of the Twelve Days of Christmas that we know today dates back only as far as 1909, when arranger Frederic Austins transcription of the words and his own tune were published in London. The three earliest printed versions (with no music) date back to about 1780, and since I followed the older lyrics, some of you likely have noticed that the order of the gifts are different than the 20th century version. The song was old when it was first published. One scholar has found what she thinks are elements of the song in a damaged manuscript from the eleventh century, the time of Beowulf, the great heroic pagan poem. Long before Christians came to the British Isles, ancient Celts observed twelve days of Yule. In addition to the Twelve Days of Christmas, there are several other holiday songs with counting to twelve that likely have pagan origins: Jolly Old Hawk and The Dilly Song (also known as Green Grow the Rushes-O and Come and I Will Sing You).

The Twelve Days of Christmas may have been sung as a forfeit game, according to one theory. Singers had to pay a fine if they forgot a line or mispronounced the gift order. This may be a kiss during George IV’s regency and reign, but who knows what a mistake might have cost before then? This idea that the song was originally intended as entertainment does not refute the song’s ancient pagan origins because the Anglo-Celts were known to engage in sports and games on their celebratory days.

I began my investigation into the avian origins of the Twelve Days of Christmas in 1998 in response to a widely circulated email claiming that the song was written by secretive English Catholics during Elizabeth I’s reign of terror. Unfortunately, the claim made little sense and there was no documentation. What it clarified as hidden messages turned out to be common biblical ideas that both Catholics and Protestants agree upon. For instance, the holy trinity is represented by three French hens, the gospels by four calling birds, and the Ten Commandments by ten lords. I was aware that the lyrics’ real hidden meaning was somewhere else.

It was simple to adopt Christmas carols from non-Christian sources. Numerous holiday songs feature holly and ivy, among other pagan symbols, so we know it was done Singing grew naturally out of chant and incantation. Poetic, alliterative language sung or spoken in a repetitive rhythm was a component of Anglo-Celtic magic. Numerous references to numbers, flora, and fauna can be found in ancient manuscripts of charms and magical poetry. Naturally, all of these are components of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

*In a letter, Judy Mellichamp urged me to present a compelling case for doves or pigeons as substitute milkmaids due to their crop milk, a secretion that adult birds spit into the open mouths of their young. Although doves are considered to be peaceful and pure birds, they are not when referred to as pigeons.

FAQ

What is a maid a milking bird?

Eight Maids A-Milking As most people know, these birds were often eaten across much of Europe in medieval times and beyond. But eight maids a-milking might instead refer to cattle egrets, Bubulcus ibis. These are smallish, mostly white, wading birds with yellow or grayish legs and a long yellow beak.

What do the 12 days of Christmas refer to birds?

As a lifelong birder, I have another suggestion: that each of the carol’s 12 lines represents a bird. Given that the first four lines, along with the sixth and seventh, are explicitly avian, I suggest that the whole verse was originally written to celebrate 12 different birds.

What is the meaning of Lords a leaping bird?

ten lords-a-leaping” We’ve almost reached the end, but there are still some interesting birds to meet. This section refers to grey herons, birds with incredibly long legs and a hunched back giving them a ‘lord-like’ appearance. As they move through the water they leap and hop, hence the ‘lords-a-leaping’.

How many birds are gifted during the 12 days of Christmas?

It’s likely you are familiar with the carol, “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Moreover, you have probably sung it. But, have you ever noted how many birds are within the lyrics? To save you the time of counting, I’ll just tell you. There are six birds given as gifts in the song.