If you’ve been stuck at the mall listening to a song about ten Lords a-Leaping and eight Maids a-Milking you can blame the Jesuits.
Rumor has it they invented the Twelve Days of Christmas song as a catechism in code for persecuted Catholics in 16th-century England. The claim is that each of the items has a coded meaning (Old and New Testaments are the two turtle doves; three hens are the Wise Men; the Evangelists are the four calling birds; five gold rings speak of the five sacraments that should be received by all Catholics, etc.).
Whether that is true or not we’ll leave to the musicologists to decide. Since this is an economics blog will look at another question: How much would all that stuff cost?
For more than 30 years, the financial services company PNC has calculated the prices of the twelve gifts for their PNC Christmas Price Index.
The cost of the items for the 2017 season are $34,558.65. But that’s only if you bought the items once. If you consider the cumulative cost of all the gifts when you count each repetition in the song (364 gifts) you’d spend $157,558.00.
Surprisingly, the seven Swans-a-Swimming are the most expensive item ($13,125.00) and the most subject to fluctuation. If you take them out, the cost is only $21,433.65. The cost of this year’s CPI rose only by 0.6 percent, driven by the cost increases for the Pear Tree, the increased demand for Golden Rings, and wage increases for the Lords-a-Leaping (maybe they’ve unionized).
The PNC Christmas Price Index may seem silly, but it has some educational value since it’s similar to the U.S. Consumer Price Index, which measures the changing prices of goods and services like housing, food, clothing, transportation and more that reflect the spending habits of the average American. “It’s a fun way to measure consumer spending and trends in the economy,” says PNC. “So, even if Pipers Piping or Geese-a-Laying didn’t make your gift list this year, you can still learn a lot by checking out why their prices have increased or decreased over the years.”