The 12 Days of Christmas

The Outlaw Carol That Wouldn’t Die

2023 Finalist—The Guardian's Diagram Prize

In the whole body of Christmas carols sung in English, among the most famous and beloved is a song universally called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Although its association with the holiday remains unquestioned, the tune was originally a raucous drinking song with wildly different connotations. This book documents the unfamiliar and distant history of one of the world’s most well-known holiday songs, inextricably linked to the earliest celebrations of a festival suppressed by the Church itself. The rowdy and mischievous tone of traditional Christmas has vanished, as have the songs that accompanied the festival of drinking, gambling, fighting, feasting and sex. Modern participants of Christmas may be either embarrassed or pleased to discover the scandalous roots of a beloved holiday classic.

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