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Vol. 1 No. 2 - Nativity 2006

Caroling and Public Schools

To the elites who have spent the last two decades or more trying to expunge Christianity from public schools, take note: it's been tried before, and it failed.

From 1558 to the early 19th century, Roman Catholics in England were severely curtailed in the public practice of their religion; i.e. Public displays of traditional Christian symbols, images of saints and their veneration, and the public observance of feast days, was officially quashed by civil authorities. The traditional Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was written during this period by Roman Catholics as a secret teaching tool instruct children in the meaning of the Christian faith. The carol was devised to get the message across without upsetting the Protestants. In the carol, the Christian receives from his True Love (the Lord), a partridge in a pear tree (Christ, born of the Virgin Mary). Two turtle doves (the Old and New Testaments) proclaim his arrival, along with three French hens (faith, hope, and love) and four calling birds (the evangelists).

Other references are equally symbolic: five golden rings (the first five books of the Bible); six geese a-laying(the six days of creation); seven swans a-swimming (the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:9-11, Rom. 12, Eph. 4 and 1 Peter 4:10-11); eight maids a-milking (the beatitudes); nine ladies dancing (the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); ten lords a-leaping (the ten commandments); eleven pipers piping (the eleven faithful disciples); and twelve drummers drumming (the twelve points of the [Apostles] creed).

Ironically, this is one of those carols which has usually made it through the censors' filter as a "neutral" piece of holiday fare. In the age of political correctness, perhaps there is something to be learned from this technique, which has endured five centuries of attack, but which still endures as a declaration of the Gospel, in a manner which even today echoes the secret "codeword" greetings of the early martyrs.

One only wonders what form our secret greetings will take.

Father Geoffrey Korz, (Nativity, 2006)

© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.