Merry Christmas! If you’ve been wondering what to get your True Love this year, this listicle should help immensely. I’ll carefully review the merits of each of the gifts presented in the classic carol and rank them according to how much an average American in the modern day would appreciate receiving them on Christmas morning.
Keep in mind that we’ll have to make some reasonable assumptions along the way about what each gift actually represents. But we can rely throughout the process on one rock-solid rule of thumb:
Birds are awful pets.
Do you know anyone who owns a bird? Have you kept one as a pet yourself? Birds are horrifically annoying and they contribute little in the way of cute behavior or an ability to play safely with children. There is nothing to compensate for the grating cacophonies that emit from their hard, curved mouth-daggers or the colorful poop with which they litter every echelon of your home.
And even if you’re a member of the brainwashed masses who believes, based on personal experience with some uniquely well-mannered cockatoo, that birds are delightful creatures that bring merriment and wonder to mankind every time you open their cage doors, I imagine that you, too, can at least agree that my pessimistic view is apt as regards midsized waterfowl.
One quick editorial note before we jump in: most people don’t know exactly which days are the fabled 12 of Christmas. Christmas Day is the first of them, day 1, and they continue right up to January 5th, which is the 12th day of Christmas. January 6th, then, is the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the revelation of the infant Jesus to the world at large (and especially to the Gentiles, through the symbol of the Three Kings). January 6th is therefore also the deadline for getting rid of your Christmas tree, so make sure it’s out at the curb before any drummers come drumming.
12. Six Geese a-Laying
This is pretty easy to deduce from our key guiding principle. Geese are almost certainly the single most annoying species with wings, six birds is very nearly the most birds you ever get, and the emerging eggs only herald more geese to come. A “gift” that keeps on “giving,” indeed.
11. Twelve Drummers Drumming
Other listers might place this hornless drum-and-bugle corps very differently. It depends on how you feel about percussive music (marvelous martial melody, or rowdy racket?) and also what ensemble you imagine. Fond memories of marching band would lead me to rank this highly, but I’ve aimed low to appeal to the probable majority who envision a deafening bunch of heavy-metal houseguests or, worse yet, a modern drum circle. Nobody likes hippies.
10. Seven Swans a-Swimming
The greatest number of fully-hatched birds. It’s worth questioning how exactly they go about swimming if you live in, say, a second-story apartment. Do they battle for elbow room in the tub? Is there an implied accompanying gift along the lines of an inflatable baby pool or a man-made backyard pond? Do you merely receive the title to some bevy who reside at the local park? Only the last of these would pose less than an extreme inconvenience for the recipient.
9. Four Calling Birds
Wikipedia informs me that “calling birds” was a popular modification of some different original lyric, with the intended meaning of “songbirds.” I think the songs of birds are often rather pretty at twilight—less so at dawn, when they are enough to wake me—and in the forest as accompaniment to a summer hike. But the conversations of four small, fluttering residents cease to be endearing after days on end of hearing them loop like some hellish jukebox.
8. Two Turtle Doves
This winged wretches are just getting cuter and cuter, aren’t they? Still, hold fast to the rule. Two birds are far less appealing than one bird, which by itself would still be below the line that separates “gifts” from “burdens.”
7. Five Golden Rings
Like the drummers, this choice could easily incite disagreement. What use do I have, though, for these rings? Some girls, with at least a hint of vanity, would love to receive them as re-gifts (feigning ignorance of the “re”) parceled out over time, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t take that chance with my wife. And what if these rings turn out to be something quite different, like chain-links or pumpkin-sized hoops for juggling?
6. A Partridge in a Pear Tree
I don’t know much about the demeanor of partridges, but one bird might—might—be manageable. The tree, on the other hand, I would take with actual joy. As long as one’s home can afford it a spare corner, it makes for a fine conversation piece, pretties up the space, and can even provide its fair share of snacks given the proper care.
5. Ten Lords a-Leaping
Lords of what, I don’t know or care. The title alone makes them exciting! A party unto themselves, these blue-blooded dancers are guaranteed to spice up all your holiday festivities. I only assume that they will stop leaping once tired, and not make themselves a bother.
4. Three French Hens
Surprise! A trio of birds made it all the way up to #4 on the list for one simple reason: I would eat them. French hens are good to eat, and I would have these de-feathered and cooked immediately.
3. Eight Maids a-Milking
How you interpret this gift determines whether it has good or exceptional potential. “Maids” might be keen to do some cleaning for you, but I hope instead that “maidens” is meant and that they are young, unwed, and affable. At best, it might be implied that we also receive a hearty supply of milk, or even (a man can dream) an octet of cows and a well-stocked barn to stable them.
2. Eleven Pipers Piping
Had I not yielded to popular opinion, I’d have the drummers ranked in the top three or so as well. Everyone in their good senses likes pipers. The music can be lively or soft and the timbre is never harsh, even if it can be piercing at times. A woodwind band for live music seems to me like an excellent addition to any gathering.
1. Nine Ladies Dancing
I don’t envision here a particularly sultry brand of dancing. Still, I know that I am exposed to claims of sexism between this and my high ranking for the maids. So be it. Nine is less than ten (but still plenty), ladies sound more approachable than lords, and dancing is more certainly social than leaping, which all account for the disparity between this gift and that at #5. Really, what man or woman wouldn’t at least place these ladies among the top ranks?