Partridge in a Pear Tree

We’ve all been humming along to a familiar Christmas song for weeks now. You know it: “five goooolden rings!” Here at the Pear Bureau, we even commemorate the holiday season with our Partridge in a Pear Tree ornament (see above). But what is that reference all about, anyway?

I’ve seen people in pear trees and even bears in pear trees, but never, ever a partridge, so I decided to investigate this mysterious Christmas lyric. Here’s what I found: Nothing is clear about this song. It is English and/or French in origin. It may be a memory game, a catechism lesson, or maybe it was supposed to be all about birds. Let me break it down for you:

  • It was first known as a song – an English carol, most likely – that was played as a memory game. As players added verses with each day, the player who made a mistake had to pay a price, offering the others a kiss or a sweet.
  • BUT…if you take the song literally, then it likely comes from France, because the red-legged (French) partridge would be more likely to sit in trees than the native (common) partridge. Also, the words “in a pear tree” may be a mix-up of the French term for partridge, une perdrix, pronounced “per-dree,” which would make the line: “A partridge, une perdrix.”
  • Are you with me still?
  • A more modern theory claims that the song is a catechism lesson, meant to teach children some core tenets of the Catholic faith. This theory states that the partridge in a pear tree symbolizes Jesus Christ.
  • iTunes commemorates the 12 Days of Christmas with a fun app that offers a free gift from December 26 through January 6…but only in the UK. Because it’s where the carol originated?

I am thoroughly confused.

However you celebrate the holidays, all of us at Pear Bureau Northwest wish you and your family all the best of the season. Cheers!

About Brittany

Hi! I’m Brittany Wilmes, program coordinator at Pear Bureau Northwest. As half of the Communications and PR department at the Pear Bureau, I write about pear pop culture for The Pear Dish—sharing everything pear, from fresh recipes to community involvement to fun décor ideas. Have an article or idea to share? Feel free to email me! In addition to blogging, I’m busy sharing the pear love on behalf of the Pear Bureau Northwest…and eating USA Pears!

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