About the Artwork
Jeremy P. Miller
The 12 Days of Christmas Series, 2018
Watercolor, Ink and Pencil on Paper
11″ x 15″
This collection of 12 paintings engages the uncertain past of a beloved carol and seeks to create a synthesis between frivolity and faith while uncovering the heart of Christmas. It is unlikely that the carol was originally designed as a catechism – a series of questions and answers for teaching the principles of religious belief – as has been a common assertion. However, it does boast of a Christian component. The “12 Days” refers to the amount of time between Christmas day and the lesser known Church holiday of Epiphany. But is there more then meets the eye? Viewing the carol as a modern-day redemptive analogy allows it to become a useful tool for teaching catechistic truth. In other words, while it most likely was not originally a catechism, there is no reason it could not become one in its modern context. By applying biblical imagery to the numbers and symbols, we move beyond the surface and take in the scope of God’s divine narrative.
Q: Of what does the “Partridge in a Pear Tree” remind us?
A: In a modern-day catechistic reading of the “12 Days,” we imagine the true love of the carol to be Almighty God. As a father-figure, we encounter him as a giver of good gifts (James 1:17). At Christmas, he gave his son – Jesus – to be the greatest gift of all (John 3:16). Not only would Jesus live among mankind but he would also give his life for them. Supposedly, a mother partridge is one of the few birds that will die sacrificially for its young. Therefore, the partridge in a pear tree is a reminder of the sacrificial death of Jesus on another tree; the cross.
Verse for Contemplation: John 15:13
“Greater love has no one then this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Q: How should we understand the image of the “Two Turtle Doves?”
A: In addition to an enduring tradition as a symbol of love, the two turtle doves are reminders of divine revelation as received in the Old and New Testaments. The idea for including the doves on either side of the Alpha-Omega-Chi Rho came from an early Christian monument. The Chi Rho is the Greek symbol for Christ. The connection between the doves, pictures of the Old and New Testaments, and the presence of Christ in their midst, the embodiment and completion of the Word in flesh, creates a unique and contemplative synthesis. Followers of Christ are called to be lovers of the Word in both its written and incarnate forms.
Verse for Contemplation: John 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Q: What do the “Three French Hens” represent?
A: Most likely the hens are of French nationality as a nod to the carol’s musical heritage. The number three could be understood in multiple ways as we craft our modern-day catechism. It could represent the Trinity, the three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection, or it could represent the three virtues of faith, hope and love. Working from this latter choice, the emblems of a cross (faith), anchor (hope) and a heart (love) have been included. Notice that there are multiple hearts as I Corinthians 13:13 tells us that the greatest of these three is love.
Verse for Contemplation: 1 Corinthians 13:13
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Q: Why do the “Four Calling Birds” represent the four evangelists?
A: Though originally known as four collie (or black) birds, over time the subject of day four has exchanged its color for a louder voice. From the earliest days of New Testament Christianity some of the loudest calls of proclamation flowed from the writings of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A well-known symbol of the four, coming from the time of the catacombs and often recopied, is the Cross Patée with four opened books in its corners. These books represent the four evangelists. Their voices spread throughout the Earth the good news of eternity in the hearts of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Verse for Contemplation: Ephesians 4:11-12
“And he gave… the evangelists… to equip the saints in the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Q: What do the “Five Golden Rings” represent?
A: The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) form the backdrop for understanding God’s delight in creation, the emergence of human brokenness, and God’s eventual plan for restoration. They tell stories of faith and give instruction for righteous living. These books have been known by different names: the Torah, the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, and the Law. Throughout time they have been held in highest esteem by those of both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Like gold, a metal of great price, their message has been treasured.
Verse for Contemplation: Psalm 19:7
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”
Q: What do the “Six Geese A-Laying” represent?
A: We watch a goose sitting on its nest with a sense of expectation. This nurture-based activity fosters a living component into creation. The six geese within the song remind us of a time when God brought something new into the world. In the course of six days he introduced life with variety and uniqueness. As the narrative of these events unfolds in the first chapters of Genesis, we wait with baited breath to once more here God whisper, “It is good.”
Verse for Contemplation: Genesis 1:1 & 31
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning the sixth day.”
Q: What do the “Seven Swans A-Swimming” represent?
A: To see a swan swim is to see an act of grace. However, wrapped within this image is also a creature of power. There is strength in it’s beak, wings and feet. It reminds me of the final accounts of the reformer/martyr John Huss. He is recorded as saying, “Today, you are burning a goose [the meaning of “Hus” in Czech]; however, a hundred years from now, you will be able to hear a swan sing, you will not burn it, you will have to listen to him.” Many have seen themselves as fulfillments of this prophesy; including Martin Luther. However, a more accurate assertion may be that it is not a mere man but a Spirit that moves forward in grace and power. We recall the seven gifts attributed to the Holy Spirit when we sing this phrase in the “12 Days.” We remember his gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear (or respect) of the Lord.
Verse for Contemplation: John 14:26
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Q: Why are there “Eight Maids A-Milking?”
A: We recall the eight beatitudes that Jesus shared when we sing of the eight maids amilking. His instructions were poured out to the people like a pure and refreshing drink. One might imagine that to a common, country handmaiden a secret delight may take the form of a future promise. The Beatitudes are promises. They promise us, as common individuals, that in the midst of our need His grace and provision are sufficient.
Verse for Contemplation: Matthew 5:12
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
Q: Why are there “Nine Ladies Dancing?”
A: Symbolically, the numbers of seven and nine are often connected to aspects of the Holy Spirit. Like a dancer in motion, his ministry is not stagnant. It is an active force in the life of the believer. Galatians 5:22-23 informs us that when one is actively growing in their faith the Spirit brings about a harvest of character.
Verse for Contemplation: Galatians 5:22-23
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Q: What do the “Ten Lords A-Leaping” represent?
A: First things first… when we sing about lords a-leaping we are encountering the language of nobility used for centuries in Western Europe. This is not a theological treatise supporting a polytheistic worldview. Rather, in keeping with the framework of historic Christianity, that of which the practice of catechism was birthed, we will limit our analogy to the number ten. In both Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 accounts are recorded of how God gave the Israelites ten commandments on Mt. Sinai. When we sing “ten lord’s a leaping” we will recall God’s moral code as recorded in the Ten Commandments.
Verse for Contemplation: Deuteronomy 5:22
“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to [Moses].”
Q: Why are there “Eleven Pipers Piping?
A: Christ served as an itinerant teacher during his earthly ministry. Many would flock to hear him but only a few would be called into his inner circle of friends. When we sing about the eleven pipers piping, we recall the eleven faithful disciples/apostles that learned to play the song of the Messiah while doing life at his side.
Verse for Contemplation: Luke 6:13-16
“And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
Q: What do the “Twelve Drummers Drumming” represent?
A: The number twelve represents the twelve apostles and a statement named for them. The church has used this statement or creed for centuries to teach and affirm orthodox faith. This ecumenical confession emerged during the third-fourth century A.D. Ironically, there are also twelve doctrinal propositions within this statement that traditionally the church has aligned with the names of the twelve apostles. We will allow these twelve drummers to drum out the cadence of the twelve points of doctrine found in the Apostle’s Creed. Please note: The version of this document used to artistically create is copied from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. He has chosen to omit the phrase “he descended into hell” because it is not included in earlier translations and does not best reflect a literal reading of the Scriptures.
Verse for Contemplation: 2 Timothy 3:16
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”