About the song, The 12 Days of Christmas
The Christmas reflection booklet published by the Office for the New Evangelisation.
I write regarding the Christmas reflection booklet, The Joyous Community, published in December 2016 by the Office for the New Evangelisation (ONE). It is praiseworthy that ONE is producing reflections for every liturgical season; I am sure they are a valuable resource to many in the archdiocese. However, this edition contains a glaring error which I am frankly astonished made it to print.
The recommended Christmas activity for families utilises the secular Christmas song Twelve Days of Christmas, along with a popular interpretation of the lyrics as being “secret code for persecuted Catholics to learn their faith”. There are several issues with this interpretation, chiefly:
1. There is no historical evidence to support such an interpretation of the song – in fact, the theory of the “secret code” emerged only in the late 20th century, again without any substantial historical records to back it up;
2. The theory claims that Catholics were secretly passing on their faith via the song, but whatever is allegedly symbolised in the song (Jesus, the Old and New Testaments, gifts of the Holy Spirit, Ten Commandments etc) is common to Catholics and Protestants alike, and certainly not the things that would have gotten Catholics arrested;
3. The original version of the song is French, and France at the time was a Catholic country – there would have been no reason for the French to disguise catechesis in song lyrics.
These objections are detailed online in several places, including:
There are other issues as well, such as the illogic of a song meant to instruct the faithful that is only sung for 12 days of the year, but perhaps the main problem with the theory is that it is just the right mix of romance and waffle that appeals to people who do not really know any better (and are unlikely to find out).
As mentioned earlier there are many people relying on these resources who, in trust, will not think to question what is in them, and ONE has a profound responsibility to these people. For such a thing to make its way into a Christmas reflection booklet and be published by an archdiocesan office that exists ostensibly for evangelisation purposes is remarkably appalling.
This “secret code” theory is not quaintly harmless, nor is it a means to “Catholicise” yet another maudlin Christmas ditty – it is precisely the kind of untruth that perpetuates itself via collective ignorance, and thereby undermines genuine attempts at catechesis.
Furthermore, for it to be purported as truth by Catholics, when any non-Catholic with sufficient cynicism and a working Internet connection can pull it apart, does not bode well for our evangelisation efforts.
I sincerely hope that the team at ONE will consider their output more carefully. Their responsibility to the faithful is staggering, but from this it is not clear if they are aware.
ONE replies: We thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this matter. It is indeed a challenge, in the new evangelisation, as we attempt to meet people where they are at, in order to draw them to the sacred. This song was intended as a vehicle to remind us of the true gift of God our Father at Christmas, i.e. Jesus Christ. We appreciate the concerns you have raised. We are mindful of them and open to hear from those who are able and willing to share knowledge and resources for our common mission of evangelisation.
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