Monday, December 29, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

In recent years, for reasons your almanackist has not yet been able to discover, some audio recordings from the USA have begun using the term 'calling birds' in this line of the old Christmas carol , 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', which was already old when first committed to paper in 1780 – rather than the familiar 'colly birds', ie blackbirds (birds the the colour of coal*) – while in most of the English-speaking world the traditional term from the ancient song seems still to be generally sung as shown above, and I hazard a guess that it was also sung the original way in older USA recordings. Any information on precisely when this change first occurred in the USA would be of interest to your almanackist.

One also wonders whether the rising influence of commercially recorded music, and the unfortunate recent decline of people actually singing amongst themselves, singing children to sleep, or carrolling from house to house, will see outside of the USA a general shift towards the American version of the original lyrics. What a 'calling bird' is, is also something unknown to your almanackist. Perhaps it is a USA term describing a bird with which I'm unfamiliar. Almaniacs are invited to share any knowledge they might have. The matter is to find the lyrics (perhaps on sheet music) of the first audio recording with the change, or perhaps some fairly recent book transcribed the words incorrectly. This is how folklore changes – for example, see the Almanac's page on The Blue Moon – Folklore or Fakelore?. Any clues on this? They'd be very welcome for the Book of Days.

*'Colly' is an English dialect word meaning 'black' (like coal) and refers to the European blackbird, Turdus merula.

When do the Twelve Days begin, and when do they end? Read at December 26.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings Australia.

You nee to add this to your website, it fits well !

7:46 AM  
Blogger nehoccramcire said...

growing up in new york, we always sang it 'calling birds' as far back as i can remember, and that's about 1970...always imagined birds singing, or your blog and almanack...keep up the good work...

4:19 PM  
Blogger Pip said...

Thanks so much for your feedback and kind words. Happy New Year.

5:11 PM  

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