by Andy Johnson
The Twelve Days of Christmas is an old English Carol* featuring mainly animals. A partridge is an English or grey partridge. Turtle doves are now rare but occasionally seen locally. French hens are thought to be Breton hens. Calling birds (or ‘colly’ in early versions) meant blackbirds. Gold rings were thought to represent ringed pheasants, or ‘gold spinks’, an old name for goldfinches. Geese, farmyard variety originating from greylag geese. Swans a-swimming were probably mute swans. Lords a-leaping in some versions were hares running, typical hare behaviour in the breeding season. The carol was written when the population was predominately rural and more familiar with country living.
* An 18th century cumulative carol – Ed.