Who are the three French hens?
On the third day of Christmas, as you may well know, true love’s gift was a trio of French hens. Now, as I write this series of blog posts, I’m starting to learn a lot about just how much symbolism was behind all these gifts. If you’ve read my earlier posts about the two turtle doves and the partridge in the pear tree, you’ll know just how central the spirit of giving is to the song, and the third gift is no different.
During the 16th century, French Hens (which are not just hens from France, as I first thought) were very expensive. These three expensive gifts of true love represent the lavish gifts of the three wise men: gold, frankincense and myrrh. As a Christian carol, the song’s gifts are all religious symbols. It is said that the three gifts represent Jesus himself; the gold representing his kingly leadership, the frankincense his role as a religious and priestly figure, and myrrh a prediction of his death and embalming.
The most widely understood of the three gifts, gold, was given as a gift to kings or deities in the ancient world as a symbol of grandeur and wealth. You may not know (as I didn’t) that frankincense and myrrh were also considered gifts of honour: frankincense as a perfume and myrrh as anointing oil.
The gift of three expensive French Hens means personally for me the gift of charity. In modern society, the holiday period is a time for giving to those we love and to those less fortunate (our singer seems to be very generous indeed!).
Through a little research into the three wise men and their gifts, I came upon some research from Cardiff University which demonstrated that frankincense can be used to relieve arthritis. Perhaps the three wise men knew of its healing powers and brought the gift to help Jesus to heal those in need.
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