The Twelve Days of Christmas – Day 1 – A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The First Day of Christmas – A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Following on my last my post on the history of the Carol, ” The Twelve  Days of Christmas”,  I will now explore the various”gifts” mentioned in the Carol.

Verse 1 reads:

On the first day of Christmas

   My true love sent to me

 A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The first gift mentioned in the English version is “a partridge in a pear tree”.

However, you may ask, could someone carry a Pear Tree with a Partridge sitting in it??  A good question!

I believe that by the time you have read this post you may have the answer. 

Partridges are non-migratory birds in the pheasant family Phasianidae. They are medium-sized birds, intermediate between the larger Pheasants and the smaller Quails. They are native to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East

They are ground-nesting seed eaters but, the young in particular, take insects as an essential protein supply  

According to Greek legend, the first partridge appeared when Daedalus threw his nephew, Perdix, off a roof in a fit of jealous rage

The Red-legged (or French Partridge)Alectoris rufa – is a rotund bird, with light brown back , pale grey breast and buff belly. The face is white with a black gorget and it has a red-eye ring and red bill. The feathers of the flanks are streaked and it has red legs.

When disturbed it prefers to run rather than fly, but if necessary, it can fly a short distance. It will perch on tree branches more often than the common or grey Partridge  



The Common (or grey) Partridge, Perdix perdix,  although also a member of the pheasant family is a different Genus from the French, which was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770. It also is a rotund bird, but is brown-backed, with grey flanks and chest. The belly is white, usually marked with a large chestnut-brown horse-shoe mark in males and also in many females.

Hens lay up to 20 eggs in a ground nest, usually in the margin of a cereal field. It will fly short distances if disturbed


Pear Tree

The Pear is any of several tree species of the genus Pyrus and also the name of the fruit of these trees. Several species of pear are valued by humans for their edible fruit, but the fruit of other species are small, hard and astringent.

The cultivation of the pear goes back to ancient times and there is evidence of its use as a food source since ancient times. The word “Pear” or its equivalent occurs in all the Celtic languages

There is a reference to Pears growing in the garden of Alcinous in “The Odyssey” by Homer, the famous Greek Philosopher

The Pear Tree was also cultivated by the Romans, who did not eat pears raw.

Pliny’s Natural History recommended stewing them with honey and noted three dozen varieties

Pears have been cultivated in China for about 3000 years

For those interested, these books can be purchased by clicking on the pictures above

As an aside, some have suggested that this line in the song does not refer to a pear tree at all. French was commonly spoken after William The Conqueror invaded England. The French word for Partridge is perdix, as is the botanical name in Greek as mentioned above and is pronounced “pair dee” in French . So the line is thought to be  a mispronunciation. This seems to indicate that the song is French not English.

Personally, I like the idea of a partridge in the pear tree, but agree it would not be an easy gift to deliver.

Here is one of my Favourite Pear Recipes:

Pear and Rocket Salad                                                    

Packham Pear

Preparation time 15 minutes

Ingredients:  (Serves 4)

50gm ( ½  bunch ) rocket ,trimmed
½ small green oakleaf lettuce, washed and dried

50gm piece Parmesan, shaved

40gm (1/3 cup) walnut pieces

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Chives

1 (about 300gm) ripe Pear ( Beurre bosc,  Packham or William )


2 tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil

1 tablespoon Cider Vinegar

Salt and ground Black Pepper , to taste


1. Dressing- place ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously to combine

2. Salad- Place Rocket, lettuce, parmesan, Walnuts and Chives  in a large bowl

3. Peel, quarter and core the Pear. Slice each quarter into 4 pies. Add to the Salad with the dressing and toss well

Serve immediately and Enjoy!

Here are some other ways to enjoy beautiful fresh pears and pear products.

Did this answer your question about A Partridge in a Pear Tree ?

 In my next Post I will talk about the gift sent on The Second Day of Christmas

Doctor Bill