Just think of all the poo

Last year, I made a nice hot cup of cocoa, wrapped a blanket around my legs, let Dennis my dog curl up in my lap, and gently placed my laptop on top of him while I reflected on the holiday traditions associated with Festivus, like the airing of grievances and the feats of strength.  This year, I swapped the cocoa for a nice dark roast coffee with hazelnut creamer, ditched the blanket — even though there’s a rainstorm rolling in, it is still rather warm — and decided to turn my attention to that most annoying of the Christmas carols:  the Twelve Days of Christmas.

12 days of Christmas

First, let’s clear up the most common misconception.  The “twelve days” of Christmas are not a countdown to Christmas day.  When you set the singing, and the plethora of parodies, aside, there is an actual historical basis for the traditional Christmas carol we all love to hate.  The twelve days of Christmas are the period between Christmas Day and January 5th, which is the eve of the Epiphany in the Roman Catholic calendar; they were established by proclamation at the Council of Tours in 567 CE, and were intended to mark the amount of time it took after the birth of Jesus for the magi, or wise men, to follow the star and travel to Bethlehem for the Epiphany when they recognized him as the son of God (thus, their “epiphany”).  Over many centuries, the tradition developed by commemorating key figures in Christianity and incorporating “feast days” for them, such as St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr or protomartyr, celebrated on December 26th, St. John the Apostle on December 27th, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, on January 1st.

By the Middle Ages the twelve days had become one, continuous feast, further solidified in the minds and hearts of Christendom by the Tudor period when William Shakespeare used it as the setting for one of his plays, Twelfth Night.  Traditions which date back to pre-Christian religions, including electing a "Lord of Misrule,” a peasant chosen to preside over the Feast of Fools, and kissing under mistletoe (the remnants of a fertility rite) were incorporated along the way.

Perhaps the most well known “origin story” of the carol also leans heavily on its supposed Christian roots as a coded primer on Christianity.  It is said to be a catechetical device used to aid Christian converts in learning the tenets of the faith as follows:

The partridge in the pear tree represents Jesus, and then we have...

  • 2 Turtle Doves representing The Old and New Testaments of the Bible
  • 3 French Hens representing Faith, Hope, and Charity, otherwise known as the Theological Virtues
  • 4 Calling Birds representing the Four Gospels and the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
  • 5 Golden Rings representing The first five books of the Old Testament, known as the “Pentateuch,” which tell the story of humanity’s fall from grace
  • 6 Geese a-layin' representing the six days it took God to create the world and everything in it according to Genesis (the book in the Bible, not the band)
  • 7 Swans a-swimmin' representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, also known as the seven sacraments
  • 8 Maids a-milkin' representing the eight beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 5:3-12)
  • 9 Ladies Dancing representing the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • 10 Lords a-leapin' representing the ten commandments
  • 11 Pipers Piping representing the eleven faithful apostles
  • 12 Drummers Drumming representing the twelve points of doctrine found in the Apostle’s Creed

Clever, but it’s all fake news, as the myth-debunking website Snopes explains; further, the historian William Studwell also refuted the coded message idea in an interview with the Religion News Service in 2008:

This was not originally a Catholic song, no matter what you hear on the Internet. … Neutral reference books say this is nonsense. If there was such a catechism device, a secret code, it was derived from the original secular song. It’s a derivative, not the source.

Now, far be it from me to dampen your seasonal mirth, but the song is utter nonsense.  To begin with, no way you’re still accepting birds by day four; personally, I’d be out after the second day.  And on top of that, if someone wanted to give me the equivalent of $41,205.58 dollars worth of gifts, $179,454.19 if you add up the cost of each item every time it’s mentioned (per the 2021 PNC financial services group’s annual Twelve Days of Christmas Price Index, this year adjusted for the pandemic’s impact), I’ve had my eye on the Audi A4 which starts at $45,000; I’ll even make up the $3794.42 difference.

2022 Audi A4

Then there are the practical issues.  Where are the swans going to swim?  I have no pool.  I only have eggs for breakfast, so I’m not sure what I’d do with the output of six geese laying.  I was already concerned about the amount of shit the 23 total birds and fowl combined would create, then I got to thinking, “those maids aren’t milking each other” (and if they are, I’ve misunderstood the song entirely), so they must have brought a cow.  Great, even more shit!

8 maids a-milkin'

I assume the ladies are dancing to whatever racket the pipers and the drummers are making, but what’s with the lords?  Is that all they do… leap?

10 lords a-leapin'

One could make the argument that the birds are pretty, the rings valuable, the geese and the maids useful (provided they brought a cow), the dancing ladies accompanied by the pipers and the drummers entertaining, but leaping lords?  What am I supposed to get out of that?

Nah, if you are my true love, the closest Audi dealership is Audi Rancho Mirage — I’m sure they will accept a wire transfer from your bank, or a mailed cashier's check if you want to go old school.

And please thoughtful reader, have a safe and festive holiday.

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