Seasons Greetings from the Lockbox!
I’m taking a break from fiction today. I need to rant.
I celebrate Christmas. It’s not out of any religious obligation that I do this, but rather it is because Christmas is the holiday with the most lights. A born and bred New Englander, pine trees are a staple. Plus, this time of year wouldn’t be complete without “Carol of the Bells” in its various forms.
In fact, I really love most Christmas songs. There are a few I learned about via my college choir that I could live without, but, for the most part, Christmas songs are either beautiful or fun. As a true music lover, that means quite a bit to me. And so it is with warm regards that I give the majority of Christmas music two thumbs up.
All that aside, today’s rant is about one Christmas song in particular, and it’s not about one of those previously mentioned ones I could live without. No, it’s a song that I don’t actually dislike. It’s about a song that drives me something south of crazy. You’ve heard of the Pachelbel Rant (and if you haven’t, you have now). Well, this is the “12 Days of Christmas Rant.”
Writers—you, better than anyone, understand the importance of being paid by the word. Writers and readers, is there or is there not anything worse than too many words? You know what I mean. When you open a book and are met with “The brown, dappled fox pranced lightly through the snow-dusted forest, flicking his tale in a completely ordinary side to side sequence and puffing out a feather-like breath with every….” Make. It. Stop!
Wikipedia offers a nicely written article about the history and lyrics of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” stating up front that the lyrics are cumulative. Yes, that means what you think it means. It means that on the fourth day of Christmas, the poor person not only got the 4 calling birds but also three more French hens, another couple of turtledoves, and a brand spanking new partridge in a fresh pear tree.
So not only is that a ton of gifts, but it’s the longest freaking song ever!!!
Truth be told, I didn’t used to have this issue. In high school, I loved “The 12 Days of Christmas.” In advanced choir (chorale) my junior and senior years, we had a great 4-part harmony version of the song to which we would add visual aids. Day 1 was a single female mimicking a bird. Day two was two people (usually men) being all cutesy. Day three was three people (usually men) shouting in French accents and so on. Ten lords a-leaping was all the girls. Nine ladies dancing was all the men. It was the most fun I’ve ever had with that song.
And then I sang it in college.
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a partridge in a pair tree.
On the second day of Christmas…*snore*”
Despite my attempts, the director would not agree to let us act it out, and we were stuck standing on the risers, rather pathetically (there wasn’t a lot of us) singing this extremely repetitive song.
I endured this, as painful as it was, and live to tell the tale. But my feelings for “The 12 Days of Christmas” have not been the same since.
And then this Christmas season, I discovered a version with instrumental interludes.
That crosses a line.
I am now forced to return to my college years and explain the solution to the problem of the repetitive song. As a practical upshot, this doubles as a warning to writers everywhere about being paid by the word.
One of my fellow sopranos turned to me during rehearsal one day and said, “Mary, I figured it out. We don’t need to sing the entire song.” She proceeded to sing her new version.
“Over 12 days of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
12 drummers drumming
22 pipers piping
30 lords a-leaping
36 ladies dancing
40 maids a-milking
42 swans a-swimming
42 geese a-laying
40 golden rings
36 calling birds
30 French hens
And 12 partridges in pair trees”
Alas, the director wouldn’t approve that change either despite our arguments that it was shorter, more to the point, more economically friendly, better for the audiences’ attention span, containing the same message as the original, less likely to insight mass rioting on the part of the choir, and showing in the soprano section’s creative skills.
My personal issues with singing the longer version in choir, can we return to the poor giftee in this situation? When you sing the entire song out, the damage seems less intense. “Oh, another 3 hens. That’s not bad.” Not so, those hens add up. Thirty hens are much more intimidating.
It’s not just the hens, either. That’s a lot of birds—184 birds to be exact. Now, where is she going to keep all those birds? And what “true love” didn’t think to include birdfeed?
And how is the giftee going to afford to keep all these birds? For our purposes, let’s assume that the giftee is a woman (because the prospect of a woman courting a man with 40 golden rings is a bit odd). Back in the day, women could not amass wealth independently without considerable questioning.
But let’s say she can. If she’s not already independently wealthy—which would help quite a bit—she’ll need to sell the 40 golden rings. Assuming that the rings (in keeping with the time) are 24-carat gold, all forty would sell for roughly 66k dollars in today’s market. That’s not a lot by today’s standards. Thus, it stands to reason that its equivalent back then would not have been a lot for the time.
There are still 184 birds to feed.
And that’s just the birds. What about all those extraneous people? Counting up the drummers, pipers, lords, ladies, and maids gives her 140 more creatures to provide for. Oh and there’s still the 40 cows that came with the maids.
Clearly, the profit from the 40 golden rings is not going to be enough.
Well, the 42 geese are “a-laying,” which means eggs. And the 40 cows and their maids are “milking,” which means (duh) milk. Using these two, she could sell homemade ice cream.
Then she’s got 36 hens. On their own, they’re quite useless, but if she invests (wisely in my opinion) in a single rooster, those hens could increase her egg production.
All this work and its still, most likely, not enough.
Well, she’s got 12 drummers and 22 pipers at her disposal. Those make for excellent street performers. Once her capital has grown enough, she could invest in a few different instrument players and form an orchestra. She could then host real concerts and earn a more steady income.
But alas, the numbers keep growing, and, let’s face it, the partridges, turtledoves, calling birds, and swans are pretty much useless. The pear trees on the other hand could bring a profit. And since the pairs contain seeds, she could plant more trees. That would, inevitably, lead to hiring people to tend the trees, which would, in turn, lead to more expenses.
“Hey, all you dancing and leaping weirdos! What do you do?”
“We leap…and dance.”
“Awesome. Do that in front of people and ask for cash.”
And if times got really hard, she could always retire the dancers and leapers in their current roles and use them to open a brothel. You wanna live on the farm, earn your keep.
At this point, she should have amassed a good amount of money. So there’s only one thing left to do.
-1. Purchase falsified documents
-2. Leave the country
-3. Change her name
-4. Never have contact with her idiotic “true love” again.
What can be taken away from “The 12 Days of Christmas?”
-For the love of all that’s holy, when they say “paid by the word,” that is not an invitation to write as many words as possible at the expense of kindness to the reader and/or characters.
If you’d like to hear a sung version of “The Condense 12 Days of Christmas,” head on over to my YouTube and have a listen here.
Below is a list of parodies of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Enjoy and Happy Holidays.
-12 Pains of Christmas
It’s called the most joyous time of year. With great joy, however, comes great stress.
-12 Drunken Days of Christmas
This lady had “a little” too much to drink.
-Bob and Doug McKenzie’s 12 Days of Christmas
A bit one-track minded, but they know what they want.
-Chipmunks 12 Days of Christmas
The fun starts around day 6.
-Jeff Foxworthy 12 Redneck Days of Christmas
Just your average presents….
-Shrek 12 Days of Christmas
Presents from the swamp
-12 Days of Christmas – Hunger Games
Just some friendly advice
-12 Days of Christmas – The Clone Wars
Star Wars gifts—always a plus
-12 Wizarding Days of Christmas
Fred and George just love what everyone got them
-12 Disney Princess Days of Christmas
Not really a parody, but you know my thing about Disney.
-Muppet 12 Days of Christmas
The fun starts on day 8