Artist: Franz von Stuck
Medium: Tempera on canvas
Size: 190 x 165 cm
Location: Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig.
A bit of modern folklore asserts that the lyrics of the Christmas carol “The Twelve days of Christmas” were written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England (1558 - 1829). As summarized by Wikipedia: “There is no primary evidence supporting this claim, and no evidence that the claim is historical, or anything but a fanciful modern day speculation.” Indeed, the theory seems of relatively recent origin, first suggested by Canadian English teacher and hymnologist Hugh D. McKellar in a short article published in 1979. Regardless, the idea that the lyrics of the carol can represent something more than “merely an irreligious travesty” gives the song a deeper, more resonant meaning. And with that in mind, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”:
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The symbolism speaks clearly to the image of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings. And the pear tree represented as cross.