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 Snopes.com.