Seven swans a-swimming

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On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Seven swans a-swimming

Six geese a-laying,

Five gold rings,

Four calling birds, three French hens,

Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

 

In the Eulogy published as part of the first folio, Ben Jonson called Shakespeare “the Swan of Avon”.

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Six geese a-laying

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On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Six geese a-laying,

Five gold rings,

Four calling birds, three French hens,

Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

Cavendish 009.jpg

Ah geese. A most seasonal bird, first domesticated around four thousand years ago and the Christmas roast of choice for many (although turkey has a longer history than you might think – apparently Henry VIII was the first British monarch to have turkey for Christmas).*

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Four calling birds

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On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Four calling birds, three French hens,

Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

Photo by Francis C Franklin

Do you know what calling birds are? It’s not exactly a recognised species – the original rhyme apparently included “colly birds”. Colly was another word for black – coal-ey? – and the origin of the sheepdog name also.

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Three French hens

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On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Three French hens,

Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

Faverolles chickens - photograph taken by Steven Walling

Most Frenchmen in Shakespeare are not the good guys – probably a function of the role of the French in English history. It seems nations nearest geographically, much like siblings closest in age, are most likely to squabble with one another. There are even the typical insults – Shakespeare uses French as a particularly damning epithet repeatedly.

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A Partridge in a Pear Tree

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Hello everyone and apologies for my continued absence – I have been moving house, which has put a definite crimp in both my theatre-going and my blogging. Normal service will be resumed in January – or possibly even slightly abnormal service, since I’m going to at least five Shakespeare productions next month!

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