Here’s a site commenting on various interpretations and versions of Twelve Days of Christmas
Hearing this song on the radio, somehow Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Canadian” version of the lyrics , locked in my mind since sixth grade or so, automatically begin to sing: “…four pounds of back bacon….three french toast…two turtlenecks and a beer in a tree.” Back when I had just started listening to the radio, my own radio, and those Great White North songs played on my favorite station seemed both rebellious and juvenile. By college the thought of a beer in a tree seemed a bit mundane, but there was something about sixth grade when a beer in a tree seemed so exciting, silly, illegal and rebelllious. One of those many reasons to break out into giggles. That on-the-edge-of-adolescence, the I’ll-defy-authority-break-the-rules-anyway beginning to grow, with bodies changing and couples pairing up on the playground, pop culture playing more and more a part as childhood turned a corner.
That resistance, against establishment, against what doesn’t seem to make sense anyway, is epitomized in this twisted version of an old carol that had nonsense lyrics – who thinks about lords leaping or even four calling birds? When the melody of the Christmas carol plays on the radio today, still the rhythm of “back bacon” and “turtlenecks” seems to fit better to me than calling birds and turtledoves…
…As I think about “Twelve Days”, another memory comes to mind…Four years ago today I was sitting in my mother’s kitchen watching Martha Stewart on TV, as she decorated and discussed the Twelve Days of Christmas. She talked about how the carol was used as secret communication between oppressed Catholics teaching their children catechism underground in England, for example the three French hens represented faith, hope and love. This interpretation of religious significance was new to me. I became intrigued by this code in the carol, actually paying attention to the TV.
But then I stopped myself. What was I doing watching TV at a time like this?! I had not come home so that I could hang out with Mom and Martha in the kitchen. The night before, my mom had called and told me that if I wanted to say goodbye to my brother, I needed to come home now. It was a phone call I had been waiting, preparing, to receive since my brother had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in October. Immediately I called Ted, called Alaska Airlines, and within hours I was flying from San Jose to Seattle, Ted taking time off to stay at home with Baby Abigail.
There I was, sitting in the kitchen watching television while my brother was upstairs in his bedroom dying. Was he dying or was he sleeping? Whatever he was doing, he was certainly very ill, on the edge of consciousness, unable to eat, talk or walk well. I felt anxious and awkward. I didn’t know what to do with myself at home, waiting around for my brother to wake up once in a while, wondering if he would wake up, wondering when he wouldn’t. It had been years since I had last stayed at my childhood home with my mom and brother, and at such a tense time I wanted to help. But I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t know what to do.
So when my mom turned on the TV, I watched it too. And there I was watching Martha talk about Twelve Days of Christmas when my brother only had two days of life left.
Amazing, how one Christmas carol can evoke two distinct memories. And how a silly nonsensical song can have such significance.