The Twelve Days of Christmas Reconsidered – by Paul Guffin January 5, 2017
The Christian season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and ends on January 5 — a total of twelve days. Thus, we have just recently completed the Christmas season for 2016-2017, which makes this an ideal time to take a closer look at the suggested gift-giving contained in the holiday song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.
The earliest known version of the song’s lyrics was published in London under the title, “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball”, as part of a 1780 children’s book, Mirth without Mischief. Over the years, there has been variation as to which gifts are to be given on days eight through twelve. For my purposes here, I will use the gifts and their order taken from that 1780 book, partly because, when using this order, you don’t have to deal with quite as many useless ladies and lords — as will become evident later.
Most of us know the lyrics in a general fashion. We know that each day “…my true loves [gives] to me…” a gift. According to the 1780 book, those gifts are, in successive order: 1 partridge in 1 pear tree; 2 turtle doves; 3 French hens; 4 colly birds, i.e., blackbirds (which later got changed to “calling birds”); 5 gold rings; 6 geese a-laying; 7 swans a-swimming; 8 maids a-milking; 9 drummers drumming; 10 pipers piping; 11 ladies leaping; and, 12 lords a-leaping. We also know that on each successive day, the previous days’ gifts are added to each day’s new gift. Thus, there is a cumulative amount of gifts throughout the twelve days.
One thing that becomes evident quite early in the twelve days is that your “true love” obviously has a lot of money to spend (or else has some really interesting connections and resources). I have read estimates of what the total amount of gifts would cost in today’s money. However, that is not my interest here — except in an oblique fashion.
So, assuming that your true love carries out the complete shopping list for the twelve days, you will end up with quite an assortment of gifts — and the headaches that come with them. To summarize, at the end of the twelve days you will have: an orchard of 12 pear trees; a barnyard consisting of 184 birds (224, if you subscribe to the theory that the gold rings are actually ring-necked pheasants); a dairy herd of 40 cows, each accompanied by its own milk maid; 780 gallons of milk (based on Purdue University’s average production estimate of 6.5 gallons per cow per day), and an additional 260 gallons of milk on each day to follow; 168 goose eggs (assuming one egg per goose), with an additional amount of 42 goose eggs per day; possibly 30 hen eggs per day from those French chickens; a marching band composed of 36 drummers and 30 pipers; and a whole bunch of ladies (22) and lords (12) doing nothing but dancing and leaping around. If you don’t subscribe to the ring-necked pheasant theory, you will also have 40 gold rings.
As to the headaches with which your true love has gifted you, they are ongoing and costly. You will need to provide shelter, feed, and veterinary care for up to 264 animals. You will need to provide refrigeration for the milk and eggs, and come up with a plan for what to do with them. You will need an annual harvest plan for your pear orchard, followed by a marketing plan for the pears you have harvested. You will need to provide lodging and meals for 140 people. (Perhaps, the milk, eggs, and pears will come in handy here.) And, you will need to provide storage for 30 pipes and 36 drums. At this point, you may be hoping that the gold rings are exactly that (and not birds), for they will give you something to sell or pawn to help provide everything for which you are now responsible.
I’m guessing that your headaches will be quickly exacerbated by those ladies and lords, who seem to want to do nothing but dance and leap. The other people given to you are all of the working class (milk maids, drummers, pipers), but these ladies and lords come from the class who believe that everyone else is supposed to provide for their maintenance, so that they might just enjoy their leisure as they wish. So, don’t expect any help from them in all the work that is now before you. They will take, take, take — and never give. You might be able to get the milk maids, drummers, and pipers to help with collecting eggs, harvesting pears, and processing all the produce; but don’t look for any help from the ladies and lords. They are the 1% in this scenario — and the 1% deem it their right to take whatever they want, and to be served by and provided for by the working class.
By now, you may be coming to the realization that your “true love” has not done you a big favor with all these gifts. How much better it might have been for you — and for everyone else — if all the money used to purchase and/or hire this multitude of gifts had instead been donated, in your name, to those organizations who fight injustice and inequality (e.g., ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center), and/or who advocate and work for preserving the environment and all who live in it (e.g., Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, a local animal shelter or rescue). If this had been the case, your life would have been so much easier, so much more peaceful — and so much richer.