‘The twelve (archaeological) days of Christmas’

Today (25th December) – Christmas Day – is considered to be the first day of Christmas. Christmas or Christmas-tide lasts for twelve days and extends from the 25th December to the 5th January. ‘The twelve days of Christmas’ is a well-known traditional carol about the gifts of Christmas, full of Christian religious symbolism.

We hope you enjoy our small Christmas gift to you – our very own attempt at ‘The twelve (archaeological) days of Christmas’! The full text of one version of the carol is given below.*

 

 

All of these artefacts are from Colchester. The image for day 1 has no connection with Colchester but the image for day 12 is a postcard of a Colchester street. All the Trust’s fieldwork reports are published online at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/ .
1 ‘A partridge in a pear tree’: this is an image of a partridge in a pear tree from a  version of the carol which was published in London in 1780 (this is published online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:12-days-title.png and posted here with thanks to Wikimedia).
2 ‘Two turtle doves’: part of a Roman figurine of a dove (excavated by the Trust: see Colchester Archaeological Report 2).
3 ‘Three French hens’: a post-Roman pipeclay figurine of a hen/cockerel (excavated by the Trust on our site at Middleborough in 1978: see Colchester Archaeological Report 5).
4  ‘Four calling birds’: a ‘calling-bird’ or songbird featured on a Roman mosaic, thought to represent a dove (the mosaic was uncovered by the Trust on our site at Middleborough in 1979).
5 ‘Five gold rings’: five Roman gold finger-rings which are part of the famous Fenwick treasure’ (excavated by the Trust in 2014 on a site at the Fenwick store in the High Street).
6 ‘Six geese’: a Roman gold finger-ring with an intaglio of Cupid with a goose… (This was found in Colchester but it is now held by the British Museum: the image is published online at http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1391154&partId=1 and the copyright is held by the Trustees of the British Museum: it is posted here with thanks to the British Museum.)
7 ‘Seven swans’: the heads of three Roman copper-alloy swan’s head handles, all about 50mm long (excavated by the Trust on our Balkerne Lane site in 1973-6: see Colchester Archaeological Report 2).
8 ‘Eight maids a-milking’: a representation of a milkmaid on a 19th-century china cup (excavated by the Trust in 2014 on a site at the Fenwick store in the High Street).
9 ‘Nine ladies dancing’: a drawing of a fragmentary figurine of a lady on horseback (excavated by the Trust on our Long Wyre Street site in 1978-9: see Colchester Archaeological Report 5). We think that she must be a lady… The figurine is 53mm high and is dated to the first half of the 17th century.
10 ‘Ten lords a-leaping’: this is a photo. of a post-Roman, ceramic roof-finial in the form of a king (excavated by the Trust: see Colchester Archaeological Report 7). We don’t have any lords…
11 ‘Eleven pipers piping’: drawings of twelve fragmentary clay tobacco-pipes (excavated by the Trust at various sites: see Colchester Archaeological Report 5). (Sorry, but it’s the best we can do!)
12 ‘Twelve drummers drumming’: an unused postcard showing a military band – the band of the Norfolk Regiment – marching along a street in Colchester and including several drummers drumming (the image is published on the Camulos web-site and it has been marked with the date of ‘1914’). The Trust’s HQ is in a former barracks NAAFI within the old Colchester garrison.

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* This is one version of the carol, published online at www.carols.org.uk/the_twelve_days_of_christmas.htm :

‘… On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree!

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