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December 26, 2020

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to the place of worship of your choice. As a retired pastor, I can assure you that a year-end gift to a congregation of faith will be appreciated by those who encourage and serve others. Please be generous.

Is there anything as over as Christmas when it is over? Colorful wrapping paper and bright ribbons are reduced to trash as quickly as gifts are torn open. Fresh green trees that have graced our homes for weeks begin to drop needles until they are discarded along city streets, waiting like fallen soldiers to be collected by the body wagon.  Even artificial trees are stored in plastic containers the size of coffins. Decorations are packed away in the basement, the attic, or the garage until next year.

Christmas is over!

In the week following Christmas, we may become preoccupied with returning and exchanging gifts, cleaning house, and paying bills. No wonder the days after Christmas mark a mood swing. The season to be jolly often dissolves into a time of exhaustion and despair. The days are shorter. There is less sunshine. The psychiatric community even has a name for the malaise – Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

The post-Christmas season can also be a time of blessed relief. For those who enjoy gardening, the mail carrier brings not only bills and tax forms but also seed and plant catalogs.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day give us time for reflection on the year past and the year ahead. Opening a new calendar can be an opportunity to plan and organize by marking birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, and other special occasions. Stretching into the foreseeable future, even with the pandemic, bowl games abound for avid football fans.

December 26 is Boxing Day. It is primarily observed throughout the United Kingdom and former Commonwealth countries. In Ireland, it is called St. Stephen’s Day. In the English tradition, the day is a time to offer presents to the people upon whose service we depend all year, those who deliver our newspaper and our mail, bag and carry groceries for us, clean our offices, and service our automobiles, just to name a few.

The twelve days of Christmas include Boxing Day and end on Epiphany, January 6.  These twelve days after Christmas provide an opportunity to extend the holidays. 

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is based on this season of giving gifts to loved ones.  If we assume a partridge in a pear tree is given only on the first day and each of the other gifts is given only once, the monetary value in dollars for most years would be in excess of $39,000.

However, the song implies that each day’s gifts are repeated on each of the remaining eleven days. By January 6, the recipient would have a total of twelve partridges and twelve pear trees.  By the twelfth day, the beloved would have received 376 gifts, including 184 birds.

The cumulative cost of the gifts is calculated annually by the economists at Pittsburgh National Corporation Wealth Management. It is an amusing and easily understandable explanation of how the country’s economy is faring.

Instead of sticking to the usual items like food, gasoline, and electricity that make up the federal Consumer Price Index, PNC tracks the cost of the Christmas carol’s more improbable list to explain how prices affect the economy.

The cost of buying your true love all the gifts from “The 12 Days of Christmas” decreased this year primarily due to the global pandemic’s economic impact.

The combined cost for the dozen gifts featured in the final verse of the famed Christmas carol is $16,168, considerably less than in recent years. Last year’s price tag was $38,994.

This year, the prices of the six geese, seven swans, and other fowl rose because the country’s fires and floods drove up the price of bird feed. The swans are almost always the highest ticket item on the list. Adult trumpeter swans cost nearly $2000 each.

The five golden rings named in the song’s verses also cost significantly more than in years past. But in 2020, the bottom dropped out of the wage scale for leaping lords, dancing ladies, pipers, and drummers.

Here is the breakdown of the cost of the items on the list.

  • One partridge in a pear tree: $210
  • Two turtle doves: $450
  • Three French hens: $210
  • Four calling birds: $600
  • Five gold rings: $945
  • Six geese-a-laying: $570
  • Seven swans-a-swimming: $13,125
  • Eight maids-a-milking: $58

As COVID-19 has caused the curtain to drop on most live performances, the last four items on the list are excluded from this year’s total cost. Advocates for the arts are not out of options for the performance lover on their guest list, as virtual performances provide a pandemic-proof alternative.  

  • Nine ladies dancing: $0
  • Ten lords-a-leaping: $0

This year maybe we should adopt a child’s take on this item as Ten lords-a-leaking.

  • Eleven pipers piping: $0
  • Twelve drummers drumming: $0

For Christmas 2020, the total price of all items on the list with all of their multiplications would be $105,561.80.

Before making this your shopping list for your true love, consider for a moment where your beloved will keep, feed, and clean up after all of those birds.

Some Christians believe that the song was a catechism in disguise, used by English Catholic parents to teach their children during Puritan rule in Britain. 

• The partridge in a pear tree represents the one true God.

• The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testament.

• The three French hens symbolize the Trinity.

• The four calling birds are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

• Five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah.

• Six geese a-laying refer to the six days of creation.

• Seven swans a-swimming are the seven sacraments.

• Eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.

• Nine ladies dancing are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

• Ten lords a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments.

• Eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful apostles.

• Twelve drummers drumming are the twelve doctrines in the Apostle’s Creed.

There is no historical evidence that the song was ever used in this way. Rather there is considerable evidence that this explanation is a recent invention.

All trivia aside, the twelve days after Christmas can have a deeper meaning.

A young father, a member of the congregation I served in North Carolina, was stricken by leukemia and hospitalized for several weeks just before Christmas. Because Stan’s immune system was compromised, his physician would not permit his two small children to visit their father.

When I visited with Stan on Christmas Day, his disease was in remission. He was looking forward to being discharged from the hospital. “We’re going to have Christmas when I get home,” he said in anticipation.

Stan left the hospital two days later to return home! He and his wife gave each child one present every day for the next week or so. Spreading out the gifts conserved Stan’s energy and enabled the family to extend Christmas into the New Year. Sadly, Stan died later that same year.

 One year, in early December, Stan’s daughter, an adult by then with children of her own, spoke with me.  “I remember that Christmas, the last one with my daddy, as the best one ever. Instead of the whole thing suddenly being over as it usually is, Christmas seemed to last and last.”

The twelve days after Christmas need not be a season of despair. In the afterglow of Christmas, joy and peace can accompany us into the New Year and beyond.

May it be so for each of you.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. His new book and first novel, December Light 1916, is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. He can be reached at

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