The twelfth day of Christmas

And so we come to the twelfth day of Christmas, 5 January—the day that ends with Twelfth Night, the Eve before Epiphany. And what a gift-giving bonanza it has been! Birds of various kinds, jewellery, milkmaids, dancing ladies, leaping lords, and a bunch of pipers, have been marshalled and then gifted by “my true live” to a deserving recipient. And celebrated in song! It has been quite an extravaganza.

We sing about this every year in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. That popular song itemises the giving of gifts over those twelve days, mounting cumulatively day by day. The total number of gifts given is quite amazing—it actually totals 364! Each day’s gift is given, not only on that day, but on each of the subsequent days.

To calculate the total number of gifts, we need to multiply each gift by the number of times it recurs in a full round of the song. If we do this, we will soon realise that the gifts’ recipient would have to rent a storage unit and gain access to a lake, to contain the bounty, including 12 partridges (one each day for 12 days), 22 turtledoves (2each day for 11 days), 30 French hens (3 each day for 10 days), 36 colly birds, 40 gold rings, 42 laying geese, 42 swimming swans, 40 milking maids, 36 dancing ladies, 30 leaping lords, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming.

And just think, how much all of this would cost! In fact, the cost each year has been calculated by the Christmas Price Index, published by the US bank PNC Wealth Management (only in America would a bank be called a “wealth management” company 😳). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Price_Index

The Christmas Price Index chose the items in this popular Christmas carol as its market basket, calculating their cost by using local sources of information—purchasing the pear tree from a local Philadelphia nursery, assessing the costs of the partridge, turtle dove, and French hen prices as determined by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

The price for the gold rings was guided initially by Gordon Jewelers (subsequently taken over by the Zale Corporation), and an assumption was made that the maids were unskilled laborers earning the federal minimum wage. The ten “lords a-leaping” are valued by using the cost of hiring male ballet dancers instead of real lords, since “lordships are a title of nobility not recognised in the United States”!

In 2012, the “true love” would have to spend $107,300 to buy all 364 presents. PNC Wealth Management has calculated the cost of the gifts every year since 1984–in that year, the same gift assortment would have cost $61,300. Those determinedly mobile swans were the most expensive item, at $1,000 each in 2012.

By 2019, the total cost would have been $38,993.59, but the next year, the cost dipped, because of the pandemic and associated restrictions. In 2020, the index did not include nine Ladies Dancing, ten Lords-A-Leaping, eleven Pipers Piping, or twelve Drummers Drumming due to COVID-19 restrictions on live performances. The total cost was $16,168.14. But in 2021, with performances in the USA once again possible, it rose to $41,205.50, and then to $45,523.27 in 2022.

So: as well as being a noisy enterprise (all those birds squawking, pipers piping, and drummers drumming) requiring large storage facilities, it’s an expensive business for the “true love” to keep this up, each and every year!

See also

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

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