The four calling birds represent the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
The original Old English version of this song referred to “colly” birds – not “calling” birds – which are darker birds that usually live in cities and have a beautiful song.
Simple Ways to Teach a Little One:
*After singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” together, explain today’s original wording and talk about how words can get all mixed up over time or through translation (Whisper Down the Lane is a great way to teach this, in part.) Ask, “years and years from now, how might people say our names incorrectly?” (Imaginative wordy preschoolers like my daughter might get a kick out of this one.)
*Look at a red-letter Bible together. Let your child find the section with red-lettering. Explain that these are the words that Jesus spoke when He lived on earth as a human. Because four of Jesus’ friends – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – wrote down some of the things that Jesus said and did, we can read about Him and learn about the kingdom of God. The four books are called, “the gospels,” which means “the good news”. Because Jesus’ friends wrote the good news, Jesus’ words did not get mixed up over time (like the “colly” bird!).
* Cut out four black birds. Punch holes in the top. Tie yarn through the holes. With a white, gold, or silver marker (or white-out), write one of the names on each bird. Make these into a mobile and hang them in a prominent area… or hang them on your Christmas tree
* By the end of the day, help your child to remember the names of Jesus’ four friends who wrote down some of the things He said and did… Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!
Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.