At least 12 reasons to dislike ‘12 Days of Christmas’

The 2008 holiday season is upon us. If you are thinking that holiday shopping will be a bit more expensive this year than it was last year, you are correct. The PNC Financial Services Group has published its annual Christmas Price Index in which they determine the current price of each of the items featured in the popular carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This year, the total cost of all 364 gifts that her “true love gave to her” is $86,609, up 10.9 percent from last year’s $78,100.

The eight maids-a-milking were up 12 percent to $52.40 due largely to an increase in the national minimum wage. Likewise, the cost of 10 lords-a-leaping, 11 pipers piping and 12 drummers drumming were all up about 3 percent, reflecting a general trend in wages. On the other hand, gold is down a bit, so the five golden rings will run about $350 apiece as opposed to $395. The three French hens are also down to $15 from $30, and the six geese-a-laying are similarly down to $120, both reflecting the recent decline in food prices.

PNC, which has published its index since 1984, checks with jewelry stores, dance companies, pet stores and other sources to compile its list, which it says reflects actual economic trends.

Most experts agree that The Twelve Days of Christmas is only the second-most annoying Christmas carol, with “The Little Drummer Boy” and its incessant “rum pah pum pums” holding down the top spot, although Twelve Days does have the more interesting history.

It has been suggested that Twelve Days and its list of fanciful Christmas gifts is actually a code used to help keep the basic tenants of the Christian faith alive for Catholic children from 1158-1829 when practicing Catholicism was frowned on in England, “frowned on” in this context meaning that if you were found practicing it, you could have your hat removed with your head still in it.

According to that theory, each of the 12 gifts represents something significant about the Christian faith or the Bible — the partridge in the pear tree is Jesus, the two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, the four calling birds are the Gospels of (Matthew, Mark, Luke and Little John), the five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch, the eight milking maids are the eight Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the 10 lords-a-leaping are the Ten Commandments, etc.

That is undeniably a great story, but there’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that it’s true. Maybe it’s just me, but every time I hear The Twelve Days of Christmas, I think of Mitch Miller or the Ray Coniff Singers on a cheesy Andy Williams or Robert Goulet Christmas Special with the Muppets.

Twelve Days is an unusual song for other reasons, too. For one thing, its time signature is not constant. To dramatize that banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck performs a version that he rolls through 12 different keys using 12 different time signatures.

Twelve Days is also a popular song to parody. Allan Sherman of “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda” fame did one. Comic Jeff Foxworthy got into the act with his version of The Redneck Twelve Days of Christmas (a 12 pack of Bud, 11 rasslin tickets, a tin of Copenhagen, 9 years probation, 8 table dances, 5 flannel shirts, 3 shotgun shells…you get the idea).

Enduring the occasional annoying holiday song is a small price to pay for the tradeoff of experiencing the other joys of the holiday experience, of course, so I’ll continue to grin and bear it whenever I hear the Twelve Days. Continuing our hard-hitting holiday series, next week we’ll explore Frosty the Snowman; The Missing Years.

Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper. This is from his “Classics” File.