(Eighth Day of the Twelve Days of Christmas)
With various and frequent moves and the ordinary changes life brings I’ve found it difficult to maintain holiday traditions. However, one Christmas tradition started more than 40 years ago is our Christmas card tradition. Each year we—usually me—designs and makes an ornament which serves as our “card.”
Through the years I’ve taken ideas from the song the Twelve Days of Christmas, in which each gift has a secret Christian message.
Realizing I am one of 8 sisters I decided to do the 8th day, the maids-a-milking, in 2014. My one older sister, Nancy Lee, nudged me on, concerned serious health problems might reduce the number in future years.
The eight maids a-milking addresses two of the major themes of fifteenth and sixteenth century English celebrations and parties during the Christmas holidays – food and romance.
Typically, the work of milking cows (and goats) was a woman’s job. Although milk was not a common beverage during this pre-refrigeration time (it spoiled too quickly), milk based products did not spoil so rapidly. Cheese, sour milk, and custards—which were prized treats for celebrations.
And the word maid? It’s a shortened form of maiden, a young, unmarried woman.
This combination of milking and maid lends itself to the idea that a gift of eight maids-a-milking might have more to do with romance than with cows.
During this time period the term go a-milking did have strong romantic connotations. Men used the term when they wanted to propose marriage (or a sexual encounter) with a woman. It was a kind of a code word to test a woman’s response—if she reacts negatively, he can always say he thought she might like to help him with the cows, and they could laugh.
Remember, the gifts in the popular Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas each signify a Christian message.
So what do the maids-a-milking signify in the popular Christmas song?
Interestingly enough, it is a code word for the eight Beatitudes that introduce the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5:1-12. I could find no information on why maids-a-milking was chosen to represent the Beatitudes. So I still wonder…
In designing the ornament I wanted to incorporated the 8 sisters (including myself), and so connected them, in age and Beatitude order, as follows:
- Nancy Lee Cornell Chase: v. 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit
- Carolyn Cornell Holland: v. 4 Blessed are those who mourn
- Pam: v. 5 Blessed are the meek
- Kitty Cornell Duda: v. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
- Darlene Aslam: v. 7 Blessed are the merciful
- Jane Lipsius Driver: v. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart
- Cynthia Lipsius: v. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers
- Sally Lipsius Kilgore: v.10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
While making the ornaments I thought about the Norman Rockwell family picture: loving parents seated around a holiday table with their offspring, laughing in a close-knit camaraderie. This scene was truer of Monte’s family with 10 children than it was of my family that includes 14 (or 18) siblings.
My split family never sat around the same dinner table. I was one of two children until I was 11, when I became a babysitter for 4 maternal siblings who arrived in 5 years (the 5th arrived after I left home). Add on 2 maternal siblings I became aware of after 50-60 years. And add my father’s 5 children in his 2nd marriage (I met all but one in my early 30s). Add 4 stepbrothers to the mix. A total of 18 siblings, in which there were 8 sisters. I’m second oldest.
My vision of having all my siblings—or even all 8 sisters—gathering Norman Rockwell style—will never be realized. But I can imagine, or perhaps write a story about this vision, someday.