On the Twelve Days of Christmas!

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I do hope you find those funny! They are rather apposite, not least due to the recent practice at Pembroke College on the part of a number of inebriated undergraduates of attempting to sing the much-tortured carol in the aftermath of formal dinner in Hall, which one one occasion last December resulted in the intervention of the Dean himself! Typically, there was one dogged undergraduate singing (if one can call it that) most of the verses, with a whole company joining in for "five gold rings"! Very merry indeed!

1. From the Internet

Twelve thank-you notes of Christmas

Dec 25

My dearest darling Edward,

What a wonderful surprise has just greeted me! That sweet partridge, in that lovely little pear-tree; what an enchanting, romantic, poetic present!

Bless you, and thank you.

Your deeply loving


Dec. 26

Beloved Edward,

The two turtle-doves arrived this morning, and are cooing away in pear-tree as I write. I'm so touched and grateful!

With undying love, as always,


Dec. 27

My darling Edward,

You do think of the most original presents! Who ever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all theway from France? It's a pity we have no chicken coops, but I expect we'll find some.

Anyway, thank you so much; they are lovely.

Your devoted Emily.

Dec. 28

Dearest Edward,

What a surprise! Four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly, they make telephoning almostimpossible - but I expect they'll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I'm very grateful, of course I am.

Love from Emily.

Dec. 29

Dearest Edward,

The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly! A really lovelypresent! Lovelier, in a way, than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I'm afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mother says she wants to use the rings to "wring" their necks. Mother has such a sense of humor. This time she's only joking, I think, but I do know what she means.

Still, I love the rings.

Bless you,


Dec. 30

Dear Edward,

Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn't six socking great geese laying eggs all over the porch. Frankly, I rather hoped that you had stopped sending me birds. We have no room for them, and they've already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but let's call a halt, shall we?



Dec. 31


I thought I said NO MORE BIRDS. This morning I woke up to find no more than seven swans, all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I'd rather not think what's happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds, to say nothing of what they leave behind them, so please, please, stop!

Your Emily.

Jan. 1 Frankly, I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids? And their cows! Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing.


Jan. 2

Look here, Edward,

This has gone far enough. You say you're sending me nine ladies dancing. All I can say is, judging from the way they dance, they're certainly not ladies. The village just isn't accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless viragos, with nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the green, and it's Mother and I who get the blame. If you value our friendship, which I do (less and less), kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once!


Jan. 3

As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing up and down all over what used to be the garden, before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it. And several of them, I have just noticed, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.


Jan. 4

This is the last straw! You know I detest bagpipes! The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mother has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance to a home for the bewildered. I hope you're satisfied.

Jan. 5


Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at 7:30 this morning of the entire percussion section of the London Symphony Orchestra, and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

G. Creep


2. On the origin of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (from the Internet)

Not just a delightful (or perhaps annoying) rhyme set to music, this song has a serious foundation in history. Catholics in England during the years 1558 until 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics, were prohibited from any public or private practice of their faith by law. The song in question was a "Catechism Song", intended to help young catholics learn the tenets of their faith - a memory aid. The song teaches the tenets by associating each with a number, 1-12, as follows: 12 Drummers Drumming: the twelve points of doctarine in the Apostle's creed. 11 Pipers Piping: the eleven Apostles. 10 Lords-A-Leaping: the ten Commandments. 9 Ladies Dancing: the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. 8 Maids-A-Milking: the eight Beatitudes. 7 Swans-A-Swimming: the seven Sacraments. 6 Geese-A-laying: the six days of Creation. 5 Golden Rings: the first five Books of the old Testament, the "Pentateuch". 4 Calling Birds: the four Gospels. 3 French Hens: Faith, Hope & Charity, the three Virtues. 2 Turtle Doves: the Old and New Testaments. 1 Partridge in a Pear Tree: Christ. And who is "My true Love"? that would be God Himself. And so, it seems, the longest carol also has a significant history to it. -- Cal Manning, Portland branch 830, KIT

3. From the Times, 24 December, 1997


The outlay for the gift list in the song is steep these days, says Robin Young

And on the 13th day I took out a big loan

Cost of the True Lover's Christmas

THE cost of true love has more than tripled this Christmas. The total cost of the gifts catalogued in the traditional song The Twelve Days of Christmas has jumped like a lord a-leaping to #21,547.59.

Last year penny-pinching and bargain-hunting around Europe kept the total down to #6,028.93, the lowest since 1982. This year's shopping expedition reverted to traditional sources within Britain, and the result was the costliest declaration of love to date.

The Times has recalculated the sum each year since the World Wildlife Fund began the exercise in 1973, when the total was a modest #2,816.60. The course of true love having never run smoothly, this economic barometer has always been one of the most unsteady.

The list of presents suffers avian overload, including no less than 184 birds. It is also liable to pressure from wage demands, being a source of employment for 140 milkmaids, drummers, pipers, dancing ladies and leaping lords.

This year only the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying are cheaper than last year. The partridges (oven-ready), at #4.50 apiece, came from Gordon Hepburn, of Mountnessing, Essex, chairman of the Guild of Q Butchers. Had the lovestricken swain bought partridges from Harrods they would have been #5.95 each.

The pear trees were supplied by Hilliers of Winchester, at #17.99. The turtle doves present a problem because the species is protected in the wild. The true lover again opted for the closest approximation - the most presentable white doves he could find. Tesco supplied

the French hens (free range and corn-fed from the Landes) at #3.99 a kilo.

Alan Dawson, a supplier of aviary-bred colly birds (blackbirds, which cannot be taken from the wild), has long told us that he never really sells any of those few blackbirds he has. The true lover this year made an expensive switch to mynahs; according to Roger Caton, of the British Bird Council, they are #200 each.

Not many years ago gold rings were obtainable at #4.99 each; this year we could do no better than #40.75 for a lady's dress ring from Bravingtons.

Geese a-laying became less expensive because the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has re-opened its barnacle goose adoption scheme, through which supporters can adopt barnacle geese in the wild, and have free admission to trust reserves, for #17 a year.

The cost of sponsoring wild Bewick's or whooper swans a-swimming through the trust is unchanged at #25 each. With the human workforce, much depends on the attitude at union headquarters. This year the true lover agreed to employ milkmaids on overtime rates of #8.32 an hour, rather than getting stung for a weekly rate. Last year, he managed to get the girls at an hourly rate of next to nothing.

The musicians are another matter, and this year their union insisted on #13.40 an hour per man, with a minimum of four hours' per engagement, and an extra #10 a man for the drummers for the trouble of transporting their kit. Last year we drafted volunteer drummers from Northern Ireland and bought CDs.

Equity's quote for 11 ladies dancing, drawn from the Royal Ballet, rose to #266.50, and they also demanded #17 each for the apparently necessary business of attending classes.

The lords a-leaping can usually claim the maximum daily expenses they could have if attending the Upper House, though last year they did it for love. Now they are entitled to #34.50 a man. Had they travelled in from the country and required an overnight stay the sum would have risen to #78 each, and if they could prove they needed secretarial assistance that would add #33.50.

Cost of the True Lover's Christmas

1995 1996 1997

A partridge #47.88 #38.90 #54.00 in a pear tree, on 12 days #150.00 #97.46 #215.88

Two turtle doves, on 11 days #440.00 #327.87 #330.00

Three French hens, on 10 days #600.00 #173.49 #275.31

Four colly birds, on 9 days #3,600.00 #646.23 #7,200.00

Five gold rings, on 8 days #560.00 #200.48 #1,630.00

Six geese a-laying, on 7 days #840.00 #1,046.23 #714.00

Seven swans a-swimming, on 6 days #1,050.00 #3,360.48 #1,050.00

Eight maids a-milking, for 5 days #113.60 #88.56 #332.80

Nine drummers drumming, on 4 days #2,340.00 Nil #2,289.60

Ten pipers piping, on 3 days #1,950.00 #19.25 #1,608.00

Eleven ladies dancing, for 2 days #2,750.00 #29.98 #5,434.00

Twelve lords a-leaping, day's expenses #396.00 Nil #414.00

Totals #14,837.48 #6,028.93 #21,547.59

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