Folk songs

The Parrot on the Pear Tree

Waissailing Bowl from the Museum's Collections.
Waissailing Bowl from the Museum's Collections.

On the first day of Christmas
My love gave to me:
the parrot on the pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas
My love gave to me:
two tame doves...
On the third day...
three French hens...
On the fourth day...
four fat geese...
On the fifth day...
five beautiful birds...
On the sixth day...
six woodcocks...
On the seventh day...
seven sweet kisses...
On the eighth day...
eight horses a–kicking...
On the ninth day...
nine horses a–hauling...
On the tenth day...
ten shillings upon twenty (thirty shillings)...
On the eleventh day...
eleven dumplings...
On the twelfth day of Christmas
My love gave to me:
Twelve pairs of shoes,
eleven dumplings
ten shillings upon twenty
nine horses a–hauling
eight horses a–kicking
seven sweet kisses
six woodcocks
five beautiful birds
four fat geese
three French hens
two tame doves
the parrot on the pear tree.

SFNHM Tape 609. Collected (Stanzas 1, 2, 3 and 12 only) 18.9.63 from John Thomas (engineer, b. 1912), Felin, Abercastell, near Mathri, north Pembrokeshire. Learnt by the singer from his relative Ben Phillips (7871–1958), who recorded several folk songs for the British Broadcasting Corporation during 1952–3.


The Welsh language has more than one version of this cumulative song, which is well–known in English as 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' and has counterparts in French. ODNR, 722, refers to an English text which was published around 1780 as 'the words of a fireside memory–and–forfeits game'. It seems highly likely that the song would at one time have been put to some such use in Welsh, either during the Christmas holiday in general or perhaps on Twelfth Day/Night specifically: after all, several examples are preserved in Welsh of feat songs (including cumulative songs) performed by wassailers as a challenge to the families they visited – the challenged usually being expected to reply in kind. (These songs appear to have been used at both Christmastime and Candlemas – the latter especially, perhaps.) Welsh versions of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' are of course known to have been performed as feat songs; for instance, the list of gifts being sung upon one breath (and therefore with increasing speed as the verses gradually lengthened). Interestingly, another English cumulative rhyme, 'A gaping wide–mouthed waddling frog' is said in ODNR, 181–3, to have been popular in England 'especially at Christmas time'. For additional examples of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' collected in Wales, see JWFSS, i, 175–6, and ii, 283–4. Upon the song in England and France especially, see ODNR, 722–4.

Click here to download the music to The Parrot on the Pear Tree
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