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Little known facts about favorite Christmas carols

Now that Thanksgiving Day is over, it’s OK to listen to Christmas carols constantly.

Although many people frown on the commercialism of Christmas and how early the stores begin the season, it makes me smile to see all things Christmas and to hear Christmas carols 24/7.

In fact, I have been listening to carols for weeks and decorated early this year. As we trimmed the tree, I was happily humming along to Christmas music when I wondered about a few of my favorite tunes — some research was in order. I hope you find this information as interesting as I did!

Did you know “Silent Night” is one of the most recorded songs in the world? It was written by a priest, Friar Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr, Austria in 1816. Two years later his friend Franz Xaver Gruber, a school teacher, put the iconic words to music. Some historians say Mohr wanted the music to work with a guitar arrangement, but that Gruber also wrote it to be played on an organ.

Apparently the original manuscript still exists and is housed in a museum in Salzburg. The original words were in German and it was called “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nach.” When translated into English, the words were:

Silent night, holy night,

Bethlehem sleeps, yet what light,

Floats around the heavenly pair;

Songs of angels fills the air.

Strains of heavenly peace.

Over the years the words changed to what we know as the song today. It was first performed in the USA in 1839. “Silent Night” was also sung during the unofficial “Christmas Truce” in the first World War in December 1914.

Another one of my favorite Christmas carols is “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The origins of this classic carol are a bit unclear. Some historians say it was a song with much hidden meanings and symbols dating back to the days of England’s King Henry VIII. During this tumultuous time, being Catholic was illegal in England (remember when King Henry started his own church so he could divorce his wife?)

Some historians say the song was used to teach Catholic children about their religion. Other historians say it was just a folk song with religious symbolism for Christians in general. How fascinating to read what the days symbolize.

The “12 days” refer to Christmas Day and ending with the Epiphany, Jan. 6. “My true love” refers to God. The “me” is the man or woman who is receiving the gifts.

On day 1, the “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus. The partridge, in ancient times was a symbol for a divine king.

The “two turtle doves” on day 2 represent the Old and New Testaments, and doves symbolize peace.

The “three French hens” on day 3 represent faith, hope and love. French hens also signify God the Father, his Son and the Holy Spirit.

The four “calling birds” on day 4 represent the four Gospels.

The “five golden rings” from day 5 represent the first five books of the Bible.

The “six geese a-laying” on day 6 symbolize the 6 days of creation.

The “seven swans a-swimming” on day 7 represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The “eight maids a milking” on day 8 signify the eight beatitudes from Jesus’ teaching.

The “nine ladies dancing” of day 9 symbolize the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The “ten lords a-leaping” on day 10 are the 10 Commandments.

The “eleven faithful disciples” on day 11 represent the eleven faithful disciples of Jesus.

Finally, the “twelve drummers drumming” on the 12th day signify the 12 points of the Apostles Creed.

Who knew there was all of this symbolism in this fun, playful song? I love learning the history of things — especially when it has to do with my favorite time of the year. Check back next week and throughout December to see what other historic things I discovered. Tis the season!

South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at