Mind Blown

Wait, Is *Every* Gift In “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” Really Birds?!

Plus, one lousy pear tree.

Actor Jeremy Crittenden explains how "The 12 Days of Christmas" is all about birds.

This time each year, horror stories about sh*tty presents start to surface — like the lady whose husband got her a vacuum she didn’t ask for (or a Peloton). Or literally any piece of heart-shaped jewelry (just give us the cash and an afternoon to spend it). But one of the wildest holiday-gifting horror stories has apparently been under our noses — and stuck in our heads — for decades. Have you considered WTF kind of love bombing is really happening in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?

Anyone familiar with the song will remember things like two turtledoves or the partridge in a pear tree. You may even remember the geese a-laying and swans a-swimming. However, the bird-themed giving goes further than most of us realize.

Every. Gift. Is. Birds.

~All birds.~ As if the holidays weren’t stressful enough!

The song first appeared around 1909, and, granted, gift-giving was a bit different then. Girls were happy with new ribbons. Oranges were considered a valid present. And, if you were terribly lucky, you might even find yourself with a new bolt of fabric for sewing yourself (and the rest of the girls in your family) a new dress. Fuuuuun.

Still, with no cozy sweatshirts or spa days on the menu, we’d much rather have ribbons and a sewing project than at least 78 (seventy-eight) birds. Alas, that’s what the true love of the writer of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” might have actually been given.

The realization started with a 2021 Twitter post from the unscripted interview series Everything Is Alive. They wrote, “It’s weird to realize how many of the gifts in the 12 days of Christmas are birds. 6 out of the first 7 days, your true love just gives you birds. It’s 23 birds. What if you don’t even like birds?”

They got the ball rolling for Jeremy Crittenden, who discovered the tweet this year and pointed out that all “12 days of Christmas,” in fact, involved gifting birds. “You get so many birds in the 12 days of Christmas that when it comes time for things like the golden rings, it would be such a relief, right?” Crittenden asks. “Wrong. They’re all birds!”

The “golden rings”? They’re a type of pheasant.

“The lords a-leaping? They’re birds,” Crittenden says. “The pipers piping are not musicians. They are birds.”

Need a rundown? Here’s what each day reportedly represents.

  • First day of Christmas: 1 partridge in a pear tree
  • Second day of Christmas: 2 turtledoves
  • Third day of Christmas: 3 French hens
  • Fourth day of Christmas: 4 calling birds (blackbirds)
  • Fifth day of Christmas: 5 golden rings (pheasants)
  • Sixth day of Christmas: 6 geese a-laying
  • Seventh day of Christmas: 7 swans a-swimming
  • Eighth day of Christmas: 8 maids a-milking (magpies or cattle egret)
  • Ninth day of Christmas: 9 ladies dancing (lapwings)
  • Tenth day of Christmas: 10 lords a-leaping (cuckoos)
  • Eleventh day of Christmas: 11 pipers piping (sandpipers)
  • Twelfth day of Christmas: 12 drummers drumming (ruffled grouse)

What does all this mean? To begin: Perhaps the “true love” in question sucked at giving gifts. They might also have been a good hunter, as it’s proposed that these weren’t pets but food. And, finally, it’s all just a guess. Several theories are floating around about the song and whether or not each day represents birds, gifts of the spirit, a combination of the two, or something else.

Even if the last few days weren’t birds, you still end up with almost two dozen birds (plus far too many people playing pipes and drums for one simple holiday celebration). And wait, it gets worse!

On the 12th day of Christmas, he doesn’t just give the 12 drummers drumming, but yet another round of pipers piping and lords a-leaping. So, you don’t end up with 70-something birds — instead, your true love gave you 364 birds. And 12 pear trees. Are they planning on planting those, or is that your job? What about picking season? And who rakes the leaves?

“Merry Christmas,” says Crittenden. “Your man is a nightmare.”