“On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
a partridge in a pear tree.”
So goes the first verse from one of England’s most well-known carols, the Twelve Days of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas begin on St. Stephen’s Day (26th December) and continue until Twelfth Night; the evening of the 5th January and the night before Epiphany. Epiphany (6th January) celebrates the coming of the Magi and marks the end of the Christmas season, a tradition dating from medieval times.
You may be surprised to learn that the Twelve Days of Christmas was first written down in 1780. It was included in a children’s book named Mirth Without Mischief, and probably intended as a memory forfeit game to be played on Twelfth Night. The players would each recite a verse from memory and the first to make a mistake would be subject to a forfeit.