I get this every year and I have bad news for you folks. It's not true! Every year well-meaning people send me e-mails telling how during the persecution of the Catholics by Protestants or the persecution of Protestants by Catholics some time in England the persecuted group developed this song as code for their beliefs that they could sing to one another.
I know, I know, it would make more sense if it were true. Lords-a-Leaping, anyone? But it's not. So please spare me the details.
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Grace and Peace,