While eight maids milked nine ladies were dancing. Because ten lords wanted to leap one of the maids had to dance, which left the eleven pipers fuming as there were only seven maids left to ask, and the twelve drummers left off their drumming to fight because there were no more maids to ask, until it was realised that not all the pipers and drummers were men as first thought.
So the fight was called off, they all had a glass of warm milk (taken from the buckets which hadn’t yet been kicked over in the dancing) and they retired yawning to bed, finally leaving the love birds alone on the twelfth day of Christmas.
But the true loves were already lying exhausted on the sofa. It had been a trying day.
He once had a goose that laid some eggs, of gold each were the same — until his true love hoped to see from where the gold all came. But geese are good with warning calls and since he gave her seven they raised th’alarm when their time came to be dispatch’d to heaven.
Five gold rings? Why? To symbolise eternity? Five gold rings: by showing one’s fidelity so suitable as signs to give to our true loves! But after gifting partridge and three turtle doves, fancy French hens and a choir of blackbirds, surely expectations are running now to words which indicate to all some feathered friends? Consider now the goldfinch, tinier than French hens.
Its liquid tinkling sounds are delightful to our ears, ‘finch’ an onomatopoeic version of its pinks. Its striking blood-red mask’s said to spring from Christ’s own tears, and the Scots and rural English call them ‘spinks’. The flash of yellow seen on each and every wing of these cheerful birds brings joy to every heart. And their friendly chatterings as they trill and peep and sing speaks of hopes of never ever being apart.
Now believe me when I say that the things of which one sings in the carol may not be the things one thinks. For the gifts the true love brings when one sings of golden rings could be goldfinches or rightly golden spinks!
Four coal-black birds sitting in a tree so high, hoping they’ll be never found baking in a pie. Four days into Yuletide they are just a little miffed finding themselves singing, caged, presented as a gift.
To celebrate the Saviour’s birth He gave to her a stick in earth. As promised to his love most true A tree from that bare stick soon grew And pears did from its branches form To show his love for her stayed warm.
But she was troubled when she heard him promise he’d give her the bird…
Twelfth Night has come when some say ill-luck will come to some souls and go running amok if their baubles and candles still hang, and bright tinsel and such dingle-dangles which they’re saying long since will have lost their immediacy, attracting the spite, malevolence and such-like of brownie and sprite.
So take down the décor, the fairy, the lights which shine there from Advent to Christmas; Twelfth Night’s the end of the season — or so it is said. But what says one Herrick,* a poet long dead?
DOWN with the rosemary, and so Down with the bays and misletoe; Down with the holly, ivy, all, Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall: That so the superstitious find No one least branch there left behind : For look, how many leaves there be Neglected, there (maids, trust to me) So many goblins you shall see.
Then let us follow Herrick, who knew what must be known, and keep our Yuletide greenery up till darkness has all flown.
* Robert Herrick (1591-1674): Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve.
Cursed may be the warmakers,
the liars and the news fakers,
the politician oath-breakers,
the hackers and the muckrakers,
the refugee forsakers,
and billionaires who want more still.