The Twelve Days of Christmas

My true love gave to me a crushing financial burden • December 16 2023

It’s that special time of the year! That time of the year where most of us tend to panic-buy whatever seems vaguely appropriate for our loved ones. But consider this: you could give that special someone a truly unforgettable holiday via the gift guide outlined in The Twelve Days of Christmas. You could win Christmas. But at what cost?

A partridge in a pear tree
Everybody likes pears, apple’s hot cousin. A modest 5-gallon pear tree will run you about $65. Okay, not bad. Consulting my local partridge hatchery, I’ve been informed that a partridge chick will run me $3. Great! However: you must order 50 chicks minimum. Not great! Setting aside what I’m going to do with the other 49 juvenile partridges, that’s a total poultry cost of $150.

Two turtle doves
More birds! Let me just call out right now that the authors of this particular carol are sicko freaks for birds. It’s basically birds non-stop until the fifth day of christmas. Also: turns out we don’t get turtle doves in North America, but I dare you to point out a turtle dove in a lineup of doves. A couple of plain ol’ everyday doves is $100, apparently. I’m no ornithologist but it feels like the dove farm is ripping me off (or the partridge hatchery is laundering money).

Three french hens
Subbing in ‘three hens of no particular nationality’ here. Apologies to my true love, but shipping hens in from France feels like an overreach on the third day. Much like partridges, you can buy chickens for basically nothing but you need to buy, at minimum, twenty-five chicks. At $3 a pop, that’s a cool $75. The hatchery also ghoulishly highlights that the variety of hen I’ve selected produces large breast, thigh, and leg meat. Not in the christmas spirit as such, but good to know.

Four calling birds
Obviously I want to get my true love the callingest bird possible, which turns out to be the white bellbird. Its calls can exceed 120 dB, which is the equivalent of being at a rock concert. The gift of permanent hearing damage! Sadly, the white bellbird is native to the Amazon, which makes it very difficult to procure. Locally, one of the loudest birds is the sandhill crane. Obtaining a crane seems to be entirely within the purview of disreputable bird-trading sites, and the only price I’ve found for a crane of any type so far is $4,200. Four cranes would thus be $16,800. Oof. I hope my true love appreciates this.

Five golden rings
Buddy I can get you five golden rings in like 10 minutes, tops. A solid(?) gold(?) ring(?) off AliExpress will run me $14 × 5 = $70, shipping included. Easy peasy.

Six geese a-laying
And just like that, more birds. There are many breeds of goose to consider, and some of them have very good names. I have selected the ‘Buff Toulouse’, which, aside from sounding like a Parisian circus strongman, are $300 (for 6).  I was hoping for hen prices after those spendy calling birds, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Seven swans a-swimming
Ducks I could swing no problem, but SWANS? Forget it, back to the illegal bird exchange website. The cheapest bottom of the barrel clapped-out swans are running about $500 per bird. Seven? That’ll be $3,500. I want to make sure those swans are indeed a-swimming, so I’ll also throw in an inflatable pool at a cost of $54.99.

Eight maids a-milking
So I’m looking to hire some dairy farm workers. (keyword: maids) suggests that this is minimum-wage work, previous dairy and machinery experience is an asset but not required, must provide own transportation. Given that neither I nor my true love owns a dairy farm, this is likely to be more of a ‘gig’ – let’s call it a couple of hours, at best. So: $16.55 times eight maids times 2 hours = $264.80. But it’s not just maids, it’s maids a-milking. Did you know you can rent a cow? This is new and very funny information for me also! I found one company offering a ‘cow experience’ at $200/cow. I need eight. At $1,600, this better be some good milk.

Nine ladies dancing
The carol doesn’t specify what kind of dancing, so I’m going to book this Hawaiian dance company that’s close to my house – $300 for a 30-45 minute show. They claim “We do birthdays, kids’ parties, corporate events, senior homes, fundraisers and more”, but has anyone ever booked them to re-enact one-twelfth of a christmas carol before? All I’m saying is $300 is $300.

Ten lords a-leaping
Using everything I know about the British peerage, I can definitively say that looking up ‘lords’ on Google is not at all helpful. We can probably just reason this one out: if a lord is somewhere between a total scrub and His Majesty The King, so too should his day rate be similarly averaged. The average UK salary (as of this writing) is £34,963, and the king receives an annual stipend of £124.8m. Setting aside the incredibly troubling income inequality, we need to consider that there’s one king and about 67 million Brits. The King’s salary is a statistical blip at that level, so we can probably entice some down-on-their-luck/bored lords with a standard per diem. The website suggests a rate of £46 per day for less than 5 hours, which this certainly would be, so I’ve got a very-bad-exchange-rate outlay of $782. There’s also the question of getting ten lords across the pond. Current Heathrow to Toronto (return) flights are $2,000 a head, so let’s be charitable and assume I get a 10%  discount for group travel, that’s $18,000.

Eleven pipers piping
I bet there’s a 23-piece band that I can book to check off pipers and drummers in one fell swoop. Twenty-three is a normal number of members for a band to have, right?

Twelve drummers drumming
I found a very helpful thread on Reddit about booking musicians, which suggests that it’s easier to book 23 musicians and just have them all show up at once, rather than try to rent out my local orchestra. Fair enough! Seems like I’m also going to book a musical director so my eleven-piper twelve-drummer band has some coherence and, dare I say it, verve. I’ll need to slap down about $3,260 to make this happen, going by local rates.

Toting this all up, I’m faced with a cost of $45,321.79. Spread over the titular twelve days, that’s still a hefty bill of $3,776.82 per day. Maybe I’ll just get my true love some nice socks.