Constable: Annoying holiday song also is a quirky financial barometer
Always in those conversations about the most annoying holiday song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" also occupies a position as a whimsical financial barometer. Every year about this time, PNC, the bank that resulted from the merger of Pittsburgh National Corp. and Philadelphia-based Provident National Corp., has tracked the prices of every gift mentioned in that classic Christmas song.
This year, the 12 sets of gifts listed in the final verse of the song would cost a lovesick shopper $41,205.58, which is a 5.7% increase over 2019. There is no good comparison to last year, because the pandemic pretty much put an end to live performances in 2020, making it nearly impossible to find nine ladies dancing, 10 lords a-leaping, 11 pipers piping and 12 drummers drumming.
One gift that has remained affordable is the eight maids a-milking. Since the federal minimum wage hasn't budged since 2009, those hardworking agricultural employees still make $7.25 an hour, which means you can hire the lot of them to milk from 7 to 8 a.m. for a total of just 58 bucks. Technically, they are unskilled workers, but that designation clearly was applied by someone who has never tried to milk a cow.
While ornithological gift requests are rare among the general population, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" caters to people with bird fetishes. There's the partridge in a pear tree, plus two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming. PNC gets its partridge and turtle dove prices from a national bird supplier and its geese price from a waterfowl farm, while hatcheries provide the cost of hens and swans. A national pet chain provided the cost of calling birds, which are canaries.
In 2015, PNC adjusted the prices of turtle doves and swans "to better reflect open market pricing" and revised the historical data to match. With partridge prices stable, the 6% rise that brings the cost of the song's first-day gift to $222.68 this year is entirely due to the rising cost of pear trees. A volatile turtle dove market saw a 50% increase in the price of that pair to $450, and French hens posted a 40.5% increase to $255 for the trio. Geese saw the biggest increase, with a 57.1% rise to $660 for six.
A stagnant demand for calling birds saw no change in the $599.96 cost for a quartet. Swan prices also remained stable, but the $13,125 price tag for seven of those swimmers routinely is the most expensive item in the song.
There are shortages in some labor markets, leading to an increase in wages. But that doesn't apply to female dancers, as you can hire nine of them for $7,552.84, same as it was in 2019. Male dancers, however, did see a 12.6% pay hike, bringing the cost of 10 lords a-leaping to $11,260.
Eleven pipers piping will run you $2,943.93, a 7.1% increase since 2019. Twelve drummers can be hired to drum for $3,183.17, a 7.1% hike, although you probably could add "The Little Drummer Boy" to that drum circle for free.
The most likely gift mentioned in the song is the offering of five gold rings, which saw an 8.5% price jump to $895.
Among people who actually listen to all 12 verses of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," there is some debate about whether the gifter repeats earlier gifts each time they are mentioned. If that is true, the true love would bestow 364 presents (191 of them with feathers) at a cost of $179,454.19, which is 5.4% more than it would have cost in 2019.
The least painful version of the song is the 1979 performance, available on YouTube, of John Denver singing it with the Muppets in less than four minutes. But if your only complaint about "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is that you wished it lasted longer, you can buy the 2020 movie with the same title. It's about childhood friends who come home for winter break after their first semester of college and give each other an unplanned pregnancy.
Based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, raising a child (college not included) costs about 142 swans a-swimming.