Carol of the Day - 5th January 2022

by Alderley Edge Methodist Church  |  Posted at 22:00pm on 5th January 2022

Carol for the Day: Twelfth Night

Many thanks to Rhona Dalziel for this refection on the Twelve Days of Christmas — and to all our choristers for keeping us entertained through the Christmas season!


Over these Twelve Days of Christmas we have read fascinating details about and heard wonderful renditions of many of the carols we know and love. Each relate something of the Nativity story, revealing Christian teaching and celebrating the birth of the Christ child. Regardless of origin, they can all be found in our hymn books and are regularly heard as part of our worship.


Today’s final carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, however, is absent from our hymnals. 


In the TFTD on the 12th of December, Linda captured the history and traditions of this carol, revealing the heritage of the words while debunking some theories now considered fanciful. 

The origins of the music are equally fascinating.

By 1919 Cecil Sharp, well-known chronicler and collector of English folk song, had identified at least 7 different tunes to which the words were sung. At the time he wrote, ‘This well-known cumulative song is sung in two ways. The more usual way is to begin with the ‘Twelfth Day’, and in subsequent verses to omit one day at a time in reversed numerical order until the second day is reached; then the process is reversed, the days added one by one until the singer reaches the verse he began with. The other method is to begin with the second day, and then add a day in each of the following repetitions, until the whole of the 12 days are included.’ Trying to sing the carol in either of these orders is quite the challenge for twelfth night but could become your new party trick!


The version we are most familiar with today was written in 1909 by the composer and singer Frederic Austin. Born in London in 1872 Austin moved to Birkenhead to receive organ and music lessons from his uncle. Having obtained a music degree from Durham university he became a teacher of singing and composition, organist in several Birkenhead churches before making his operatic debut as a baritone in 1902, taking leading roles at Covent Garden with the British National Opera Company and becoming its artistic director in 1924. His extensive list of compositions includes orchestral and chamber music, songs and incidental music to plays and his singing career saw him give regular recitals and take the baritone solo in many of the great oratorio including Handel’s Messiah, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.


However, despite such a varied and accomplished career, it is for his two-bar arrangement of music for the words ‘Five gold rings’ that I think he would be most widely recognised. I’m sure that even as you read those words, you heard the tune playing in your mind.

This rousing version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Songs of Praise Big Sing some years ago. It is arranged and conducted by former organist of Coventry Cathedral, Paul Leddington-Wright. While listening, and signing along I’m sure, you might want to see how many other carols you can spot in the accompaniment. Answers on a postcard please!



In addition to this traditional version of the carol, a second version featuring the King’s Singers is also worth viewing. In 1998, author John Julius Norwich imagined correspondence between the recipient of the gifts and her ‘true love’ in his book ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas, A Correspondence’. Beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake, the tale tells not so much a memory or party game, or even an aide memoire for the catechism, but rather a cautionary tale of poorly considered giving.