Since Thanksgiving, the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" kept getting my attention.

It all began when I heard the red-neck parody of the song on the radio -- Jeff Foxworthy singing the fifth gift was five flannel shirts.

Then at the Madrigal Feaste, the king divided the crowd into 12 sections. As we sang the song, we stood up when it was our turn. It was up and down, over and over, such fun!

A Christmas trivia game question was: On the 11th day of Christmas, what did my true love send to me? I bet everyone went through the song until they came to 11 pipers piping. I know I had to do that.

In a booklet titled "The Christmas List," the number of presents you would have if you received every gift described in the song is 364. The estimated value in dollars for these gifts (according to PNC Financial Services): $14,558.05. Wow!

I was told a beautiful rendition of the song is by an a cappella group called Straight Up No Chaser. I tried to find a CD, but they were all sold out. In the December Guideposts magazine, I found a neat "12-Gifts-A-Giving?" A lady recovering from surgery was surprised by her friends giving on the first day a poinsettia, second day two fuzzy dice, then three bags of popcorn, four lovely candles, five crafty decorations, six tasty tamales, seven balls of chocolate, eight jars of jelly, nine Christmas carols, 10 little reindeer, 11 random trinkets and a 12-month subscription to the magazine. Good idea.

I began to wonder: Where did this song really begin, who wrote it, what is its history and meaning?

I combined information I gathered from my helpful librarian Steve Arthur and the director of the Christmas Eve program at St. John Lutheran Church, Wanda Kortan, and her daughter, Tracy Dinkel.

In 1909, English composer Frederic Austin wrote an arrangement; his melody is the standard tune used today.

The 12 days of Christmas refer to the 12 days from Dec. 26 through Jan. 6, the day before Epiphany -- the day Christians celebrate the wise men bringing gifts to the Christ child.

As the story goes, this song dates back to the 16th century religious wars in England when certain religious bodies were prohibited by law from any practice of their faith -- public or private. The adults, fearing imprisonment or worse, taught children to memorize their Cathechism by using the song as a memory aid.

Though the popular song seems to be a foolish lyric to entertain children, tradition has it this song contains Christian instruction hidden behind the words. The "True Love" of the song refers to God and the word "me" refers to all believers in Christ.

Here is the catechism version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas":

* A partridge in a pear tree: Jesus

* Two turtle doves: The Old and New Testaments

* Three French hens: The King bearing gifts or the three virtues of faith, hope and love

* Four calling birds: The four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

* Five gold rings: The first five books of Old Testament are called the Books of Grace

* Six geese-a-laying: The six days of Creation

* Seven swans a swimming: The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

* Eight maids a-milking: The eight Beatitudes

* Nine ladies dancing: The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit

* 10 lords a-leaping: The Ten Commandments

* 11 pipers piping: The eleven faithful disciples

* 12 drummers drumming: The twelve points of the Apostle Creed.

Beginning today, the 26th day of December, we can count the 12 days of Christmas until Jan. 6, the Epiphany, remembering the many gifts given to us.

May the song remain in our hearts all year long.

Opal Flinn is a member of The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.