Seven Swans a-Swimming
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2
The seven swans represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are a couple of different lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, depending on whether you are looking at these from the Protestant or Catholic perspective. The common Protestant list encompasses:
prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy. But the Catholic Church draws the list from Isaiah and includes: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Since this song was originally created as a Catholic catechetical tool, the latter list would be the appropriate one.
Throughout history swans have been associated with royalty and the swan is often used on royal symbols and other decorations. Swans are also found in myths and folk tales dealing with love. In addition, swan meat is supposed to be quite tasty and from ancient times to the nineteenth century, roast swan was on the menu for the king’s Christmas dinners and other royal banquets. With its close connection to royalty and royal holiday feasting, the choice of seven swans as a gift for Christmas is most appropriate.
The beauty and majesty of the swan is a wonderful representation of the Holy Spirit gifts. They are gifts fit for the King. These swans may have been food for the feast, or been given to add festive beauty, swimming in the pond outside the chateau.