History update. . . From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: 1) The surface meaning 2) A hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember. Jesus Christ. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . was the partridge in a pear tree Old and New Testaments. . . . . . . . were two turtle doves Faith, hope and love. . . . . . . . . . . . were three french hens Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. . . . . . were four calling birds First five books (law or torah). . . . were five golden rings Six days of creation. . . . . . . . . . . . . were the six geese a-laying Sevenfold gifts of Spirit. . . . . . . . . were the seven swans a-swimming (Roman 12:6-8) Eight beatitudes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . were eight maind a-milking Nine fruits of the Spirit. . . . . . . . . were nine ladies dancing ten commandments. . . . . . . . . . . were ten lords a-leeping eleven faithful disciples. . . . . . . . . were eleven pipers piping twelve points in Apostlesí Creed. were twelve drummers drumming