A Christmas message was presented at this week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club by Ron Stair, pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Monett.
Focusing on gifts, a common thought at this time of year, Stair offered background to the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
From 1558 to 1829 the Roman Catholic Church could not worship openly in England. During this time, Stair said "The Twelve Days of Christmas" poem appeared as a secret catechism.
Relations between the English royalty and the Catholic Church reached a breaking point in the early 1500s. Catherine of Aragon, daughter of King Ferdinand of Spain, became queen of England by marrying the king, who subsequently died. Her father insisted that the successor to the throne, Henry VIII, marry his daughter as well, thus sustaining the bond between the two royal families.
Catherine's inability to produce an heir to the throne created a political crisis. Henry tried to have the marriage annulled, but Pope Clement VII refused, not wanting to offend the new king of Spain, Charles V, Catherine's nephew and champion of Catholicism.
Henry retaliated by getting Parliament to withhold its funding of the Catholic Church. Henry was declared head of the church, thus creating the Church of England. Henry annulled his own marriage and went on to famously have five other wives.
Suppression of either the Catholics or the Protestants in England continued for decades, depending on who controlled the royal house. Queen Elizabeth I initially allowed both to be practiced but opted to suppress Catholicism for good when her rule was threatened by her half-sister, Mary Tudor, a Catholic and the queen of Scotland. Elizabeth consolidated control and consequently Catholicism remained persecuted in England until 1829.
The symbols in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" have a variety of meanings lost on contemporary listeners, Stair said. The "true love" who gives the gifts represents God. The "me" represented the Catholic in those days, or the true Christian.
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, and the tree he is in represents the cross. Stair said the two turtledoves are the Old and New Testament. Three French hens stand for faith, hope, and love as explained in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians. The four calling birds recall the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The five golden rings refer to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.
The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation. Stair said the seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit, referenced in several New Testament scriptures. The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. The nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Spirit, described in the fifth chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians.
The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. The 11 pipers piping represent the faithful disciples, excluding Judas, and the 12 drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
Stair suggested a number of gift ideas that can be given throughout the year and do not represent individual treasures. The gift of listening to someone, affection, laughter, granting solitude, sharing a good turn, the gifts of a written note, a compliment, a cheerful disposition and praying for someone can all be important gifts, he added.
At the beginning of the meeting, Stair distributed a Christmas quiz, developed by his mother-in-law. As the meeting closed, Stair shared answers to brain squeezers such as naming six of St. Nicholas's reindeer, where in the United States is Christmas celebrated with fireworks and the words beginning Dicken's "A Christmas Carol."
Stair was introduced by Kiwanis President Randy Henderson, who presided at the meeting. Henderson reported the club's annual Christmas party for children, held at the First United Methodist Church, had again been a rewarding experience.