On the first day of Christmas that partridge in a pear tree is apparently French. Partridges are largely ground birds. According to the Annotated Mother Goose by William and Ceil Baring-Gould, the only partridge to perch in a tree is the Red Leg variety. A native to France, it was only successfully introduced to England in the 1770s leading scholars to believe the song has French roots. Citing the idea that the partridge abandons its young, the Baring-Goulds also speculate it points to the fickleness of the song’s gift-giver.
That pear tree might indicate an old Christmas superstition: backing into a pear tree and circling it three times was supposed to reveal a girl’s true love.
On the second day, the turtle doves – as with most doves – are a symbol of love and devotion.
On the third day, those French hens may come specifically from Brittany. That is, the Breton coast of France. And you should see how many antique shops and furniture stores called Three French Hens you get when you Google it.
On the fourth day, they’re not calling birds. Traditionally, they are colly birds. Or coal-black birds. Or, more directly, black birds. They do sing prettily.
On the fifth day, those gold rings – again according to the inspired Baring-Goulds – may refer to the rings on the necks of the ringed pheasant. They may also be a corruption of goldspink, another name for the goldfinch. That would be a lot of pheasant. The goldfinch, I suppose, would not be for eating.
The Baring-Goulds thus point out the first seven days are filled with birds – especially so after those goose eggs hatch. I hope this lady really likes geese. I feel her true love might be laying it on a bit thick. Some people – when they don’t know what to give, they go all out.
Doesn’t explain days eight through twelve. Is she supposed to keep those maids and lords and whatnot? They’re probably just hired for the day which goes to show people have over-spent on Christmas for centuries.
Lastly, those milk-maids. There’s no cows mentioned. So – what are they milking? Maybe the birds. The “true love” sure is.