How Much Does He/She Love: Too Much!
The 12 Days of Christmas

In the classic Christmas counting carol, The 12 Days of Christmas, on the 12 days following Christmas, the singer’s ‘true love’ sends him a present each day, plus the present from the day(s) before.

The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster

The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster © Wikipedia

The 12 Days of Christmas are the 12 days between the birth of Jesus and the appearance of the Magi, with their kingly-level gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. The present-giving begins on Christmas and continues through to 6 January, traditionally Three Kings’ Day or the Epiphany.

Traditional: The 12 Days of Christmas (arr. J. Rutter) (Worcester Cathedral Choir; Anonymous; Christopher Robinson, cond.)

The song first appears in the late 18th century in a book called Mirth With-Out Mischief and is part of a long tradition of memory games and cumulative songs. If you don’t remember the order correctly, you have to pay a forfeit – a kiss or a small present – for your error.

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
a partridge in a pear tree.
Day 2: two turtle doves
Day 3: three French hens
Day 4: four calling birds
Day 5: five gold rings
Day 6: six geese a-laying
Day 7: seven swans a-swimming
Day 8: eight maids a-milking
Day 9: nine ladies dancing
Day 10: 10 lords a-leaping
Day 11: 11 pipers piping
Day 12: 12 drummers drumming

The list was set to many different melodies in its early days, but the melody we are most familiar with dates from the early 20th century, when the English baritone singer and composer Frederic Austin set the words, adding his own touch – the long cadence on 5 gold rings. Austin wrote that this was the setting that was familiar to his family, and he hadn’t heard that melody elsewhere. The song was published in 1909 and lives on today.

Frederic Austin, 1907

Frederic Austin, 1907

Days 1 through 7 are all about birds: a partridge, turtle doves, French hens, and calling birds or colly birds (blackbirds) in some versions. The five gold rings could also refer to ring-necked pheasants, followed by geese and swans.

On day 8, the staff shows up: milkmaids, dancing ladies, leaping lords, pipers, and drummers, although no one appears to be dealing with all the birds!


A bank in the US has tracked the prices of all of these presents for the past 40 years, and they make interesting and funny reading. For 2023, your daily cost for being the True Love comes out to:

1 Partridge in a Pear TreeThe price of partridges has remained stable, but the pear tree is now up nearly 14% in price$319.18
2 Turtle Doves25% leap in price, the greatest of all the gifts$750.00
3 French hensLabour and energy were the price drivers here, but they remain the most affordable of the birds$330.00
4 Calling birdsNo change in price for many years!$599.96
5 Gold RingsPrice on gold has remained unchanged for the past 5 years$1,245.00
6 Geese a LayingUp by 8.3%$780.00
7 Swans a SwimmingNo price change, but one of the most expensive birds in any case$13,125.00
8 Maids a milkingPayment at the US Federal Minimum Wage makes them most affordable$58.00
9 Ladies DancingAfter a 10% raise in 2022, no change for 2023$8,308.12
10 Lords a LeapingEXPENSIVE! Even more than the swans and up 4% from last year$14,539.20
11 Pipers PipingSlight 6.2% rise in piper cost because of the tight labour market$3,207.38
12 Drummers DrummingSame rise as the pipers: 6.2%$3,468.02

Illustration of "five gold rings", from the first known publication of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (1780)

Illustration of “five gold rings”, from the first known publication of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (1780) © Wikipedia

What does that all add up to? Well, if you’re giving just one each of everything this year, that’s only $46,729.86 in presents, a rise of only 2.7% over last year’s figure.

If you’re doing the full measure, which would be 12 partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, etc., for a total of 364 presents, you’re at over $1.5 million for 12 days of fun. $1,535,405.64, to be exact.

It’s expensive to be whimsical!

The presents total 364, presumably so you have a breathing day before next Christmas when it starts all over again. Starts again, that is, if your love is still speaking to you after having to deal with all those presents from last year!

Merry Christmas!

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