This carol has its origin as a teaching tool for young people at the time when Catholics were unable to practice their beliefs openly, and the following is what is behind the song.
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me”. The true love represents God and the “me” is the Christian who receives these gifts.
The “Partridge in the Pear tree” is Jesus who died on the tree (cross).
The “two turtle doves” are the Old and the New Testaments.
The “three French hens” were faith hope and love, the three gifts of the spirit that abides (1 Corinthians 13).
The “four calling birds” are the four Gospels.
The “five gold rings” are the first five books of The Bible that are known as the ‘Book of Moses’.
The “six geese a-laying” are the six days of creation.
The “seven swans a-swimming” are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 4: 10-11).
The “eight maids a-milking” are the eight beatitudes.
The “nine ladies dancing” are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
The “ten lords a-leaping” are the Ten Commandments.
The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven faithfull disciples.
The “twelve drummers drumming” are the twelve points of the Apostles Creed.
So the next time you hear this carol, you may well be the only one that really understands its meaning.