Well! Knock me off my bar stool with a feather, darlings! Probably nearly everyone in the western hemisphere is familiar with the refrain from the holiday tune "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The "patridge in a pear tree" was the first gift "my true love gave to me..." and is thus carried in every refrain through the rest of the song, which catalogues eleven more gifts after the partridge/pear tree!
I was shocked this morning to find it in Barbara G. Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets as I was flipping through the pages to find the entry on St. Patrick, which ties into a few posts I did about a week or so ago. I'll get to that later -- in the meantime, I just have to share this with you, it is very interesting!
Patridge in a Pear Tree
Middle English perrtriche, "patridge," was derived from Perdix, one of Athene's sacred kings, thrown into the seas from a tower, and carried to heaven in the form of a bird by his Goddess.(1) He was the partridge, she the pear tree. Athene was worshipped in Boeotia as Once', the Pear Tree, mother of all pear trees. Perdix's name originally means "the Lost One." He was a form of Vishnu-Narayana, called Lord of Pear Trees at his holy city of Badrinath in the Himalayas (from badri, "pear tree"). The pear tree had feminine-maternal significance through Eurasia. It was also sacred to Hera, whose oldest image at the Heraeum in Mycenae was made of pear wood.(2) European peasants considered the pear a favorite "life-tree" for a girl. In Russia it was a protective charm for cows.(3) The partridge in the tree was evidently taken as a symbol for Christ, instead of Perdix, when the image was transposed into a Christmas carol.
(1) Potter & Sargent, 123.
(2) Graves, G.M. 1, 252.
(3) B. Butler, 238.