The twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas day and end on Twelfth Night — January 5th, the night before Epiphany. This means that you probably won’t be in school to talk about them as they are taking place.
If you are doing Christmas in the classroom, go ahead and study the subject now, because there are many teaching opportunities that you can seize on with little preparation or effort.
There have been a number of picture book versions of the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Some of our favorites are those by Jan Brett, Hilary Knight, and Robert Sabuda. The 12 Days of Christmas by Rachel Isadora is set in Africa, with illustrations depicting scenes from different countries in Africa. Gennady Spirin has put sheet music in her lavish picture book and Don Daily has done some neat things with numerals. There are also numerous recordings of the song, and most of your students probably know it. Here are some ideas for using it in lessons:
- Here is the song. Most of us nowadays think of this song first when we hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Many of us do not even know any other meaning of the phrase. The song begins with “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.” Each verse adds a day and gets longer, until the 12th day is a long list: “On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping…” Divide the class into 12 parts and assign each group a day to sing. Each group must sing their line as it comes up in order. This is fun, and it is a good game to practice concentration, reading fluency, and following directions.
- Here is a nice collection of coloring pages, with the words and everything. There are ads, and each page is a separate file, but it turns out a nice classroom book if you have time to work with it. Alternatively, have your students create illustrations for each day’s gifts. This could be a class mural or an excellent bulletin board.
- Here is an ornament from Jan Brett’s Twelve Days of Christmas with the French hens. Print the cone out, cut it out, put it together, and you will have a nice lesson for geometry and/or following directions. Cones like these were filled with candy and hung on Christmas trees in the old days. Students could hide word problems in theirs and exchange them for a quick seasonal math activity.
- Here you will find letters from the recipient of the 12 days’ worth of gifts. They are quite funny, and a good addition to your lessons on friendly letters. Have students write their own.
- Here is a chart for determining the total cost of the 12 days’ gifts. Notice that the first day’s gift is a partridge in a pear tree, and the second day’s gifts are two turtle doves and another partridge in another pear tree. Here is the detail of the current prices from PNC, where they have been keeping track of this data for the past 24 years. This year’s report is on video, suitable for classroom use.
- If calculating the prices would be too much for your class, you can still have them calculate the total number of gifts. You could also compare the numbers of humans and of birds.
- Rutgers has a lesson on the subject involving triangular numbers.
- Take the challenge down a notch by using this printable PDF file to match the numbers with the noun phrases in the song. Depending on the class, this can be numbers practice, reading practice, or a memory challenge.
- Print out a little desk-sized poster to use for counting practice. Have little kids put counters over the pictures.
- Ormolu is offering some 12 Days of Christmas gift tags that would make good count to 12 flash cards.
- If you are reading Robert Sabuda’s version of the song, check out these step by-step directions to make pop-up Christmas tree. You can make it a geometry lesson or an art lesson, or both.
- If you’re sophisticated about music history, you will find Craig Courtney’s Musicological Journey very fun and you’ll be able to begin some interesting class discussions with it. For music class, listen to it and have students identify the composer, piece of music, country, or time period for each section. Here they are:
- a partridge from 6th century Rome
- two turtle doves from 15th century France
- three French hens from 16th century Italy
- four calling birds from 17th century Italy
- five gold rings from 18th century Germany
- six geese from 18th century Austria
- seven swans from 19th century France
- eight maids from 19th century Germany
- nine ladies from 19th century Austria
- ten lords from 19th century Italy