In the church "Christmas" refers to a twelve day period that starts with Christmas day. This is where "The Twelve Days of Christmas" comes from. The world celebrates Christmas for twelve hours, but the Church celebrates it for twelve days because the gift of Christ is with us for twelve months of the year.
"The 12 Days of Christmas" - the song
When most people hear of "The 12 days of Christmas" they think of the song.
This song had its origins as a teaching tool to instruct young people in the
meaning and content of the Christian faith.
From 1558 to 1829 Roman Catholics in England were not able to practice their faith openly so they had to find other ways to pass on their beliefs. The song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is one example of how they did it. "The 12 Days of Christmas" is in a sense an allegory. Each of the items in the song represents something of religious significance. The hidden meaning of each gift was designed to help young Christians learn their faith.
The song goes:
"On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." The "true love" represents God and the "me" who receives these presents is the Christian.
The "partridge in a pear tree" was Jesus Christ who died on a tree as a gift from God.
The "two turtle doves" were the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God.
The "three French hens" were faith hope and love - the three gifts of the Spirit that abide(I Corinthians 13).
The "four calling birds" were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The "five golden rings" were the first five books of the Bible also called the "Books of Moses."
The "six geese a-laying" were the six days of creation.
The "seven swans a swimming" were "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit."(I Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11)
The "eight maids a milking" were the eight beatitudes.
The "nine ladies dancing" were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.(Galatians 5:22-23)
The "ten lords a-leaping" were the Ten Commandments.
The "eleven pipers piping" were the eleven faithful disciples.
The "twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.