The 12 Days of Christmas

Let’s set the record straight on this one: the 12 days of Christmas aren’t some pre-Christmas, half-advent like period in the calendar.  As we learnt during our Christmas show this year (Episode 19: Whole Lotta Sap in Here), the 12 days of Christmas are the period proceeding Christmas, leading up to January 6th, which is the date when the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem after Christ’s birth.  If you believe in that kind of thing.  While the carol The 12 Days of Christmas had always been in my consciousness at this time of year, it wasn’t until I learnt more about the actual 12 days that made me think about it, and try to pick it apart.  So, in honour of the actual 12 days, this week’s blog post is about the song.  Let’s break it down.



If you’re not familiar (and, in that case, I’d like to say welcome to our planet), The 12 Days of Christmas is a pretty repetitive carol that detail the exploits of the world’s worst gift giver.  Why the worst?  Well, according to the carol’s singer, their true love gives them the following gifts:

  1. A partridge in a pear tree,

  2. Two turtle doves,

  3. Three french hens,

  4. Four calling birds,

  5. Five gold rings,

  6. Six geese a-laying

  7. Seven swans a-swimming,

  8. Eight maids a-milking,

  9. Nine ladies dancing,

  10. Ten lords a-leaping,

  11. Eleven pipers piping,

  12. Twelve drummers drumming.


According to Vox, the first iteration of the carol appears in a 1780 children’s book called Mirth Without Mischief, and may have French origins.  Basically, it was a game – singers were testing their memories, and if they missed an item or made a mistake, they had to ‘forfeit’ a reward to the person/people they were singing with.  The current version we all get stuck in our head isn’t the definitive one – over time, lots of items have been included, like sailing ships and bears (which, Jesus…).  And those golden rings?  They probably refer to the rings on the necks of pheasants, and not something you could actually use.  The modern version of the carol that we all know so well appeared in 1909, and is credited to Frederic Austin, an English composer.

12 days pyramid.jpg

Just… Don’t

While in the shower though, I had a thought: the way the song is structured, is the gift giver giving these items only once, and the singer lets us know with each verse what the new gift is and is recounting the past days’ gifts, or is the gift giver repeating gifts?  The way the lyrics makes it sounds, I honest to god think that, come January 6th, the receiver is going to end up having received the following:

  1. 12 partridge in pear trees,

  2. 22 turtle doves,

  3. 30 French hens,

  4. 36 calling birds,

  5. 40 gold rings [which, okay, that I don’t mind],

  6. 42 geese a-laying

  7. 42 swans a-swimming,

  8. 40 maids a-milking,

  9. 36 ladies dancing,

  10. 30 lords a-leaping,

  11. 22 pipers piping, and

  12. Twelve drummers drumming.

That’s a lot of bird shit.  And a lot of performers just milling around.  Is the receiver responsible for cleaning up after those birds and feeding the performers?  See – world’s worst gift giver.

That’s a lot of bird shit.  And a lot of performers just milling around.  Is the receiver responsible for cleaning up after those birds and feeding the performers?  See – world’s worst gift giver.

 But, let’s say you were absolutely stuck for gift ideas this year, and decided the best thing to give a loved one was the full list.  What did that run you?  Well, the PNC Christmas Price Index has us covered and has broken down the cost for a SINGLE set of all the items described (i.e. nine ladies dancing, not the 36 the song implies).  The costs have been tracked since 1984, when the initial expense totalled $20,069.58 – now, however, you’re looking at dropping $39,094.93 to annoy the shit out of your loved one.  Some may say that’s a fair prince, but there’s much cheaper ways to do it… [like this delightful little story here.]

So, long story short?  Don’t be the asshole that buys the love of your life 12 trees, 184 individual birds and hires 140 performers to fuck up their life just in time for New Year’s.  (And if you do, those 40 golden rings better be on point (and not just more birds).

All joking aside, we hope you enjoyed your holidays and that you still have some time left to spend with family and loved one.  Enjoy the rest of your 12 days of Christmas!



12 Days of Christmas: Counting by the Gifts

The 12 Days of Christmas: the story behind the holiday’s most annoying carol

PNC Christmas Price Index