Interestingly, all of the gifts in that folk song represent some unique aspect of the blessing of Christ’s first Advent in anticipation of His second. They portray the abundant life, the riches of the Christian inheritance, and the ultimate promise of heaven. They also depict the essential covenantal nature of life lived in community and accountability. Thus, the song was a clever sort of catechism tool for oppressed religious dissenters, written during the tumultuous conclusion of the Tudor period in England—though it is not altogether clear from the historical record if the song was intended for Puritan dissenters during the reign of Bloody Mary or for the Catholic dissenters during the reign of her half-sister, Elizabeth.
What is clear is that festive song praised the feasting and good will of the Yuletide season by detailing the gifts of Gospel. So for instance, instead of referring to a suitor, the "true love" mentioned in the song refers to the wooing suitor of Heaven: God Himself. The "me" receiving the gifts is symbolic of every covenant believer. The partridge in the pear tree is Jesus Christ, and in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge who feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The pear tree itself is often portrayed in Medieval literature (as is the apple tree) of the means of grace by which the gifts of God are bestowed upon men and nations.
And so it goes throughout the whole song: the two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments; the three French hens are faith, hope and charity; the four calling birds are the four Gospels; the five gold rings are the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses in the Old Testament; the six geese a-laying are the six days of creation; the seven swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; the eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount; the nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Spirit; the ten lords a-leaping are the freedoms of the Ten Commandments; the eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful disciples; the twelve drummers drumming are the twelve cardinal doctrines of the Apostles' Creed.
All in all, the song is a joyous reminder of all we celebrate this Christmas—from the crèche to the cross.