A reconsideration of the meaning of Christmas via a close reading of a familiar carol.
Debut author Samford laments the commercialization of Christmas and believes it obscures the true meaning of the holiday. In an effort to rediscover Christmas’ spiritual significance, he undertakes a meticulous interpretation of the well-known carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It turns out, says Samford, to be brimming with symbolic meaning and amounts to a kind of love letter to God, the “true love” referenced throughout. For example, the reference to a partridge, a bird famously protective of its young, evokes Jesus’ devotion to mankind, just as the pear tree is a reminder of the cross, a sign of Jesus’ sacrifice. The reference to “eight maids a milking” is an oblique emblem of the eight blessings or Beatitudes offered by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, resolutions that inspire searching self-reflection and a more intimate relationship with God. Further, the mention of “eleven pipers piping” signals the 11 apostles of Jesus—Judas is excluded for his betrayal—understood as exemplars of faithfulness. The author uses each line in the carol as a portal into a deeper discussion of Scripture, commenting synoptically on the whole of the Bible. In its entirety, the song’s meaning, Samford contends, crystallizes when situated in the grander context of the Christian belief in salvation, and it functions as a grateful homage to Jesus Christ. The point of the book, according to the author, is to help others realize the fathomless depth of God’s love and re-emphasize that Christ is the center of Christmas. Samford writes clearly and informally, carefully explaining both the song and its biblical references. This is not a scholarly study—those in search of a more rigorous, academic analysis should look elsewhere—but it still achieves exegetical seriousness. Samford unambiguously addresses himself to other believing Christians, and as a result, he can be somewhat strident philosophically: “Some would dismiss the exquisite nature of the universe as the result of time and chance, but the obvious explanation is that creation is covered with God’s fingerprints and testifies to his existence.”
A thought-provoking guide to a spiritually charged holiday tune.