Music

The Gifts From ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas,’ Ranked


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(Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2017. We’re republishing it again today because, well, it’s that time of year.)

Have you ever listened to the lyrics of “The 12 Days of Christmas”? I mean, really, truly listened to them. Because I’ll tell you what: If you do that and think about them for even five seconds, you will realize they are insane. Profoundly insane. Over the course of just under two weeks, the person singing the song receives a series of useless and terrible gifts from a person they repeatedly describe as their “true love.” Six of the gifts are birds. This person receives a total of 23 birds for Christmas. Why would anyone want or need 23 birds? I honestly have no idea. And that’s assuming each gift is given once and then just repeated in the song as a reminder. Because otherwise on the twelfth day of Christmas, the person is getting seven swans for a sixth consecutive day. That is 42 swans. This whole thing is already madness without bringing in that aspect of it.

How mad is it? Boy oh boy, am I ever glad you asked. Below, please find all of the gifts from “The 12 Days of Christmas,” ranked from most to least terrible.

Short version: Your true love is a lunatic.

12. Four calling birds

Do you know someone who has a bird as a pet? Like, one, single bird? It is not great! Birds are loud and loud in a very annoying way, usually involving squawks. Squawks are bad. Have you ever been surprised by a squawking bird in someone’s house, where you don’t know they have a pet bird in an upstairs room or something and you’re just looking for the bathroom and then all of a sudden there’s a horrible screech from a darkened room and it scares you so much that finding that bathroom is no longer a pressing issue? Uh, me neither. Definitely me neither. Birds are bad. That’s my point. And this maniac just gave you FOUR OF THEM.

And even if “calling” is different than “squawking,” and we’re talking about the little chirping you hear outside your window on dewy mornings in the spring, that’s still not great. Sure, that’s cute in that particular situation, but imagine non-stop chirping in your house, in stereo, from four birds, at like 2 AM on a work night. I’m not saying you’d snap and kill all those birds, but I’m also not saying you wouldn’t. You can’t be held accountable for your actions in that kind of situation, which is exactly what you should tell the cops when they show up after your neighbors complain about you shouting while heaving dead birds out your window.

11. Eleven pipers piping

If I understand this correctly, the pipers in question here are bagpipers. Eleven bagpipers are too many bagpipers. That I know for a fact. You could make an argument that one bagpiper is too many bagpipers. That’s more subjective, though. Your line might be somewhere different than mine on this one. But wherever you fall on the “How many bagpipers is too many bagpipers?” spectrum, eleven is definitely too many.

Even if you asked for bagpipers for Christmas, which is an absurd leap of logic to take but I’m doing it anyway because now I need to see this through, there is no way you would ask for eleven of them, or expect eleven if you left the number unspecified. If someone said to me “Hey, can you get me some dudes playing the bagpipes for Christmas?,” I would, first of all, look at them with a mixture of sadness and concern until I am able to contort my face back into a normal expression through sheer willpower, and then I would say “You’re sure about this?,” and if they say yes, I would order them a maximum of three bagpipers. It wouldn’t even dawn on me to get them eleven bagpipers. I don’t even know how one finds that many. Or if you even can. There might not be eleven bagpipers within a 50 mile radius of my house.

That said, I reserve the right to move this higher if by “piper” they mean “person who works on pipes.” Winter is here and a frozen pipe will cost you a fortune if it busts. Not the most romantic gift, but you can’t be too careful.

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10. A partridge in a pear tree

Not as annoying or maddening as squawking birds or a flock of bagpipers, which is about all I can say for this one. It’s just so bafflingly useless. A bird in a tree. And not even a great tree. I mean, pears are fine. I love a good pear once in a while. But do I want an entire tree of them? I assure you I do not. What would I do with all of them? Give them away? People will stop coming over.

“Hey, Brian is having people over for the fight tonight. Should we go?”

“Ugh, last time I went he made me take a bag of pears home.”

“Yeah, me too. Was kinda pushy about it.”

“That guy sucks.”

“Yeah, screw him.”

I’ll have to pay for the whole pay-per-view myself and watch it alone with partridge. And this is the FIRST GIFT? No way. No thanks. If someone gives you a bird in a pear tree and is like “And I have eleven more surprises on the way,” you run, because that person is a psychopath. One of the gifts might be a bag of thumbs. I mean, that’s not really one of the gifts. It’s mostly just more birds. We know that because we know the song. But the person in the song doesn’t know it yet. If that’s me, I’m not sticking around to find out.

9. Twelve drummers drumming

Twelve drummers is also too many drummers, especially since I live in an apartment. I’m not sure I can fit twelve people in here comfortably without drums. It would be a mess even before they start banging away on their TWELVE DRUMS. I will pass. In fact, let me be crystal clear: I would like zero drummers. That would be a better gift. Like just a card that says, “I was going to get you twelve drumming drummers, but I decided to get you zero of them.” I might hug the person. A gift of omission. That could be a thing. Let’s disrupt Christmas.

The only reason this is ranked above the birds and bagpipers is because there’s a chance — small, given the other gifts on the list — that “twelve drummers drumming” means an actual drumline, like from a college football halftime show, and if they’re taking requests and know how to play “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan and are willing to do it outside in the parking lot, then this could be a winner.

8. Seven swans a-swimming

“Okay, open your eyes!”

“Oh man I hope it’s a new car! Here I go! Uhhh…”

“It’s swans! Seven of them! They’re swimming!”

“Ahh. Uh, cool.”

“Aren’t they beautiful?”

“Oh, sure. Sure sure sure. So when do we get to my present?”

“This is your present!”

“Taking me to see swans is my Christmas present?”

“No, silly. The swans are your present. They’re yours now!”

“But… why though?”

“Well, remember that one day when you were like ‘Swans are kinda cool?’”

“Uh, kinda.”

“Well, I did, and… [motions toward swans]… tada!”

“Oh. Cool. Cool cool cool. I have swans now. That’s cool.”

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7. Six geese a-laying

This is helpful if you are super into raising geese or are an avant-garde chef who just opened a restaurant that specializes in dishes prepared with farm fresh goose eggs (maybe you named it Zero, because goose egg means zero and you overthink things), but otherwise, not so much. And it’s a real kick in the pants for reasons set forth in this tweet:

“Okay, ready for your next gift?”

“Trevor, if this if more birds I swear to God…”

“Uh… [hides box of geese behind his back and grabs the first thing he can find]… Merry Christmas!”

“Trevor, this is our TiVo remote.”

“At least it’s not birds, though, right?”

“What’s that honking? Are you hiding geese behind your back?”

“Uhhhh no?”

6. Eight maids a-milking

This is either very useful or very, very useless, depending on whether you own a dairy farm. If you do, great, more hands to pitch in!

If not, though, you’re about to have eight very bored maids just sitting around in your living room. It will be so awkward. What would you even talk about? They’ll probably have all their little inside jokes about milking and you’ll feel so left out. They might even turn on you and use dairy terminology to mock you to your face without you knowing. That’s no way to spend Christmas, getting roasted by eight angry milkmaids who were driven to your home under the guise of milking cows only to be stuck there in your living room until their ride comes back. Your best bet is to give them your Netflix password and let them occupy themselves.

5. Two turtle doves

Harmless. Cute. I’m not exactly sure what one does with two turtle doves, but they are not annoying or an imposition like the other gifts on this list. You have options, I guess. You can keep them as pets. You can open a window and let them fly away, their path through the sky signaling to all a message of peace and freedom. You can quit your job and become a magician who makes doves appear out of nowhere. All things considered, not the worst gift on the list. Not even close.

Still, like, an Amazon Gift Card would be better.

4. Three French hens

Right, so the thing here is that we have to get a little morbid to make this one work. Three French hens are a useless and boring gift on their own. But. You can cook three French hens. That can feed a family. You can go online and Google a recipe and follow it and make dinner. That is a useful gift. Would I prefer a gift card to Chili’s over three live hens that I have to kill, de-feather, and prepare myself in the kitchen? Well, yeah. But this is a low bar we’re trying to clear. This maniac is going to invite eleven bagpipers into your house in a week. You’ve got bigger problems. Just eat the hens.

3. Nine ladies dancing

For the sake of keeping this as simple as possible, which is a train that left the station a long time ago, but whatever, let’s assume we’re talking about The Rockettes here. It’s Christmastime, they star in a famous Christmas show, it works. And your true love booked them, for you, for a private show, during peak Christmas season. Can you imagine the effort that went into that? Just the sheer amount of arm-twisting and puzzle-solving required to pull them away from Radio City Music Hall long enough to dance for you, you ungrateful slob? What did you even get your true love? A new blender? It’s shameful.

And I would put it at number one — I would — if not for two small issues

  • Depending on your financial situation, this could put you in debt for years. I don’t know how much it costs to book The Rockettes for a private appearance at Christmas. I bet it’s a lot. Well into the thousands. Is that really worth it? Wouldn’t you rather have, like, a new deck? Or you could use the money to pay off your student loans instead of having nine tall women do a festive dance in your living room for a half hour. Whatever. It’s your money. Hire 50 dancing ladies for all I care. Just don’t come to me in March with your hand out.
  • One of them might knock something over with a leg kick and then you have to clean it up yourself because you sent those mean maids home.

Still. We can work with this.

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2. Five gold rings

Five gold rings are, among other things, not birds or loud musical instruments, so they do have that going for them. And they are gold. Gold is a valuable metal typically associated with gift-giving. It’s jewelry. This is easily the most normal item on the list. Easily. Not even a contest, really. I don’t even know what’s second. Probably the turtle doves.

But. Five?

Five gold rings is a lot of gold rings. That’s a ring on every finger of one hand, plus a ring for the thumb, which is a lot closer to brass knuckles than it is to a sensible jewelry collection. Or it could be enough for three rings on one hand and two on the other, but then you’re asymmetrical and it’ll drive your OCD friends crazy. It’s so many gold rings that my first reaction upon seeing them would probably be “This person robbed a jewelry store and just grabbed whatever they could before the fuzz showed up” instead of “This person bought me five gold rings for me for Christmas.”

More importantly: Who wants five gold rings at once? Just get one gold ring and spend four gold rings worth of money on a second gift. Wait, no! Hold on! Do not spend it on more birds. Promise me you won’t spend your money on more birds. Look at me.

Okay, yeah. Let’s just be safe here. If someone ever gives you five gold rings, keep one, then go sell the others for whatever you can get and go buy a nice leather jacket or something. Maybe just sell all five, to be safe. Or just drop them off at the police station with an anonymous note that says “Sorry!” This person can’t be trusted. You have to make due with what you’ve got here.

1. Ten lords a-leaping

This is the most confusing item on the list, by a mile. You can almost — almost — make sense of the other ones. Maybe your true love just really digs birds and bagpipes and drums. Probably not a person I’d wanna date, but love is love and you don’t always get a choice where Cupid’s arrow lands, so fine. I wish you both the best. But lords a-leaping? What even is that? Did someone really get their true love ten British nobles to come over and jump around the house. That’s so weird. It’s so confusing. And yet…

I kind of want to see it? Maybe not for a long time. I bet the novelty wears off pretty quick. But I think it would be fascinating to date someone with enough juice in Great Britain to force ten lords to come to your house and embarrass themselves by hopping around like huge aristocratic bunny rabbits for an hour. Is… is this a blackmail situation? What does your true love have on them to make them do it? Is your true love secretly a supervillain? It’s not so much the leaping lords that interest me here. It’s what their presence in my house implies.

Also, if they are pretty good at leaping, you can take them out to the driveway and have them hold a dunk contest on your hoop. Lower the rim to 8.5 feet if you have to. Lords doing alley-oops and such like a stuffy black-tie version of the Harlem Globetrotters. The neighbors will be flabbergasted. This might be worth it for that alone.

Yeah. Number one with a bullet.

(Have you checked out the TV Avalanche podcast with Alan Sepinwall and Brian Grubb? Subscribe on iTunes or Google.)

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