Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Twelve Days, 364 Gifts

Posted by Neal on December 5, 2004

I’ll file this one under Ambiguous Song Lyrics. They’re not ambiguous, but there are nonetheless two understandings of them. The question is: By the 12th day of Christmas, how many gifts has the singer’s true love given him or her? Most illustrations I see for the twelfth day show one partridge in a pear tree, two turtledoves, etc.

But the lyrics unambiguously state otherwise. For example, the second verse goes, “On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.” It does NOT say, “By the second day of Christmas, my true love had given to me…”; it says, “On the second day, my true love gave“! So, without doing any kind of grammar tricks, or deliberately choosing the less likely of two readings (since after all, only one is possible), we have to accept that on the twelfth day of Christmas, the singer has received:

  • 12*1 = 12 drummers drumming
  • 11*2 = 22 pipers piping
  • 10*3 = 30 lords a-leaping
  • 9*4 = 36 ladies dancing
  • 8*5 = 40 maids a-milking
  • 7*6 = 42 swans a-swimming
  • 6*7 = 42 geese a-laying
  • 5*8 = 40 golden rings
  • 4*9 = 36 calling birds
  • 3*10 = 30 French hens
  • 2*11 = 22 turtledoves
  • 1*12 = 12 partridges in pear trees

This gives a total of 2*(12 + 22 + 30 + 36 + 40 + 42) = 364 gifts. Implausible, yes, but only a little bit more than the 78-gift total you get by ignoring the repetitions. Ten lords a-leaping or 30 lords a-leaping, either way it’s pretty bizarre.

And with that said, here’s a big, “You’re so literal!” nod of approval to PNC Bank, which each year calculates the total cost of these gifts in current dollars, and it does so with the total of 364. Stay literal, guys!

Finally, in the further interest of literalness, enjoy this debunking of the purported Christian symbolism behind the twelve 364 gifts, courtesy of

13 Responses to “Twelve Days, 364 Gifts”

  1. Anonymous said

    Golly, only by being so literal-minded can we see the deeper (commercial) meaning of the holiday season: 364 gifts or in effect, one for every day of the year expect for … Christmas day itself! Santa & Rudolf needed one day set aside just for deliveries. Just what I suspected, Jesus died so I could get my stocking stuffed.

  2. Anonymous said

    Actually, if you want to ignore the commercialism of it, the 365th gift would not have been necessary to early Christians because the gift was the Christ child.

  3. Anonymous said

    if this is supposed to be so literal, why isn’t the quantity of drums, or pipes added in? also, I am of the camp that clearly sees the partridge, and pear tree as TWO separate gifts.

  4. […] by Neal on December 17, 2006 I’ve started to get a few more hits on my posts on Christmas songs, so I’ll write about one that I never got around to last year or the year before. In […]

  5. Dan said

    This co-incidence is interesting
    because I have been using 364 as
    a Jesus symbol for 19 years. In
    1994 there was a supernatural event
    that accidently contained 364 twice
    in the letter value counts of two
    event locations. According to the Urantia Book, the first event was on the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus (probably symbolic rather than literal). The century day of the
    first overnight event was 94.64
    years into the 20th century where
    364 x 260/1000 = 94.64. I was amazed because 364 and 260 are the missing
    numbers in what I denote as the
    Biblical and American versions of
    Enoch’s Riddles.

    In the ancient world, a 364 day
    religious tradition was worldwide.
    This manifested when the Dead Sea
    Scroll mystics observed a 364 day
    religious year in order to make the
    seasons come out correctly. It
    happens that the 364 day year can
    be corrected to the exact solar year length abt. every 70,000 years by
    using a whole number ratio. Here
    is the year length 2000 years ago:

    364 x 294/293 = 365.2423208.

    This means that adding a leap day
    every 293 days would have produced
    a perfectly accurate calendar 2000
    years ago. This demonstrates why
    364 symbols are appropriate for a
    celebration of a birth 2000 years

    This same 364 symbolism was part of
    the religious symbolism of central
    America. Here is symbolism of the
    2000 year celebration in terms of
    Mayan symbolism (Central American religious riddles always involved
    their 260 day religious year as the
    missing number). The Mayan religous
    cycle was 260 x 676 = 175760 days
    long, and the Maya split 676 into
    312 plus 364:

    (312 plus 364)260 = 81120 + 94640.

    Here we see the 94640 or 94.64 symbol
    along with 81120, which is within
    the 81101 to 81146 zipcode range of
    the towns traversed by the initial
    2000 yr. 364 encoded event.

    364 also seems to be generated in
    the symbolism of the card deck.

    And this is only the beginning of
    the symbols that can be uncovered
    relative to the 2000 year celebration
    that happened over the night of
    94.64 years into the 20th century.


  6. Dan said

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the
    numbers 312, 364, 676, 81120, and
    94640 are fortuitous because they
    can be exactly correlated in so-called
    Symbol-Illogical form:

    312 x 364 x 67.6 = 81120 x 94.640.


  7. Dan said

    Dan overlooked something relative
    to 12 Days, 364 Gifts:

    The 364 encoded events were
    12 days apart.


  8. Dan said

    And, I also forget that the final
    event of the first night involved
    12 lights spelling out G-O-D, where
    D was actually a triangle symbol over so-called D-Mountain near Del Norte Colorado (zip = 81132).

    A 12th light split off from the other
    11 lights and descended while perhaps
    about 20 witnesses described the 12th
    light as looking like a Christmas
    Tree Ornament. See “Mysterious
    Valley” by CHRISTopher O’Brien.

    By the way, the author, C. O’Brien,
    seems to have had the only zipcode
    to PO box number ratio in the small
    town of Crestone that rounded off to

    81131/223 = 363.816 -> 364.

    These co-incidences are gradually
    coming back into my memory. I discovered this in the Spring of
    2000, almost 6 years after the 364
    encoded events.


  9. Dan said

    Perhaps a reader will need the
    page number in Chris O’Brien’s “Mysterious Valley” book:

    6 x 7 x 6 = Page Number 252.


  10. Dan said

    Above is a link to a document within the American Institute of Physics
    website which shows a connection between the numbers 12 and 364.

    Take the sum of the numbers 1,
    1 plus 2, 1 plus 2 plus 3, etc.
    all the way to the sum of the
    numbers 1 through 12. Then add
    all the sums together to yield
    the number 364 (if I’ve correctly


  11. T. Stewart said

    I think it’s less ambiguous lyrics and more of a mistranslation. The French lyrics say “Le premier jour de Noël
    J’ai reçu de mon ami”. Basically, “The first day of Christmas, I have received from my friend”. That can be taken as I have received thus far. I’ve lived in the US my whole life and I never heard the part, “my true love gave to me”. I’ve always heard, “my true love’s sent to me” which is closer to the British form. I’m from southern Alabama so it maybe a regional thing, I guess my point is there are only twelve gifts and the 364 gifts is bad translation although you are correct about the grammar. I personally can’t figure out when ‘sent’ became ‘gave’ or why “On” was added to “The first day of Christmas.”

    –T. Stewart

    • Neal said

      I didn’t know this background. If I had written the post more recently, I’d’ve definitely done some more research before publishing, and maybe found out when the On crept in. In fact, I may yet, now that you’ve put me wise to it.

  12. Sue Richards said

    But she does have a gift for Christmas day… her true love ❤

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