Have you heard of the 12 Weeks of Christmas? It was inspired by the classic Christmas carol. But what you may not know is the origin of that very merry holiday song. It is an English carol thought to be French in origin that was first published without music in England in 1780 as a chant or poem. The melody now associated with the lyrics evolved from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk song by English composer Frederic Austin. Between 1780 and 1966 at least 15 versions of the lyrics have been documented. Coming from sources that include Scotland, Faroe Islands and France.
While the precise origins are unknown, it is widely held that it originated from a children’s memory game. The twelve days in the song refer to the 12 days from the day after Christmas to the day before Epiphany, January 6. The most widely known English version was first printed in 1780 as a book for children called Mirth without Mischief—a game to be played on the Twelfth Night.
The popular carol has been recorded by the widest variety of artists, including Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters and Burl Ives in 1951, Perry Como in 1953, Alvin and the Chipmunks in 1963 and Frank Sinatra and his children in 1968. Fay McKay, a musical comedian became known for “The Twelve Daze of Christmas,” in which the various gifts were replaced with alcoholic drinks. A recording was also made by John Denver and the Muppets, as well as a Maori version from New Zealand titled “A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree,” written by Kingi Matutaera.
And for a final bit of Christmas trivia: just for fun, since 1984 PNC Bank has used the costs of the items identified in the song as a tongue-in-cheek indicator of the economy. In 2015 it was determined the total costs for goods and services given by the True Love to the singer was $34,130.99 which would be $155,407.18 for all 364 items listed in the repetitions throughout the song.