According to several sources, this particular song came to the New World from Britain sometime after 1780. Later on, people would trace it back to France as their Partridge birds tend to favor perching in trees, whereas British Partridges favor bushes and such. In France there once was game that was played around the holidays where each player would make up a tune to add on as a humorous “gift.” Hence, the odd gifts for each day that “…my true love gave to me.”
The number twelve has a significant meaning as well. It’s the total number of days between December 25th (in some countries it’s December 26th) and the Feast of the Epiphany (usually falls on January 6th). Tradition has it that the twelfth day is the last of Christmas Merrymaking.
After much searching and searching, I couldn’t find a myth behind the famous Partridge bird in the song. Instead, I found a very nice folktale that is remarkably resembles the bird and fits in very nicely with the nostalgia of the December Holidays. It’s rather long, so I’m telling it in my own words.
There once lived a mother partridge who lived in a cornfield with her three young chicks, when along came a tractor cutting down the stalks. Worried for her babies, she picked them up and flew them to the ocean side where there was lots of food and places to live.
Along the way, she rested in a [pear] tree with her chicks. After all the flying, they were hungry. So she went about to collect some food and fed her babies.
Once they arrived at their seaside home, one of her chicks said to her, “Mother, when I grow up I will take care of my children with the same loving and kindness you’ve shown us.”