I remember being in Elementary School in music class. We were automatically signed up for the Christmas concert in the middle of the school year, because why not? We were trained to sing the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. I didn’t even understand most of the gifts that were being given on the song other than golden rings. I mean, what true love would give someone nine ladies dancing or ten jumping men? Around this same time, I remember seeing a TV special, which as an animated portrayal of the popular Christmas song. There was so much chaos on the screen: feathers were flying everywhere, ladies were screaming, but at the end was this very beautiful presentation, similar to the Aladdin song, “Make Way for Prince Ali”.
A year before becoming a math teacher, while I was still in college, a professor told us something that blew my mind about that song! The gifts in the twelve days of Christmas were given every day! You get that right?
On the first day, a partridge.
On the second day, two turtledoves AND a partridge.
By the end of the second day, the singer of the song already has FOUR gifts! Two Turtle Doves and Two Partridges in that Pear Tree!.
There’s nothing telling you that the true love only gave two turtledoves that day. Still, which is right? Did this true love give only give one type of gift each day or much much more?
By the time you reach the end of this blog post, you will see that not only did the writer of the song intend for the singer to receive the more than the same number of gifts as the Christmas day, but the gift giver painted a beautiful message behind the math of the song.
WHAT ARE THE GIFTS GIVEN ON THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS?
Let’s first list the types of gifts given during these twelve days of Christmas:
A partridge in a pear tree,
and some drummers.
It will take very little research time via the internet before you find multiple symbolic meanings of these gifts as they relate to Christmas. However, the explanations on those resources will do a lot better explaining those meanings than I can, and there are conflicting arguments around the entire song, its origins, etc. I’m more interested in the math behind the gifts than the gifts themselves. Who knew there was such a debate over a song people merrily sing on a doorstep outside?
What is the Math Behind the 12 Days of Christmas?
So, as I mentioned in the intro, I grew up assuming the number of the gifts the singer ultimate receives on the twelfth day of Christmas is:
Day 1: 1
Day 2: 2
Day 3: 3
Day 4: 4
Day 5: 5
Day 6: 6
Day 7: 7
Day 8: 8
Day 9: 9
Day 10: 10
Day 11: 11
Day 12: 12
Equaling a whopping 78 gifts, when it’s all said and done. To be honest, that number is nothing to sniff at, but there is little significance in that number if you’re not into numerology or something. (Fun fact: 78 is the atomic number of Platinum!)
Anyway, though 78 is a big number, when looking at gifts, it’s not very meaningful. Now, let’s look at the real math behind the song. Remember the “true love” is not merely giving Five Golden Rings on Day 5. He or She is giving Golden Rings, Calling Birds, French Hens, Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in that delicious pear tree. Then again, I guess in the winter, there wouldn’t be any pears on it, now would it?
So, here’s the real math behind the song. Hold onto your blog-reading seat:
Day 1: 1
Day 2: 2 + 1 + (1) = 4 Gifts total on Day 2!
Day 3: 3 + 2 + 1 + (4 from the day before) = 10 Gifts total on Day 3 alone!
Day 4: 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (10 from the day before) = 20 Gifts total.
Day 5: 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (20 from the day before) = 35 Gifts total!
Day 6: 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (35 from the day before) = 56 Gifts total!
Day 7: 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (56 from the day before) = 84 Gifts total, surpassing the earlier total of 78 gifts by Day 12.
Day 8: 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (84 from the day before) = 120 Gifts total! Where is the singer going to keep it all? Well, Day 8 is when we actually start getting people instead of animals and objects (maids a-milking), so, I assume they’ll find a spot to sit down.
Day 9: 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (120 from the day before) = 165 Gifts total!
Day 10: 10 + 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (165 from the day before) = 220 Gifts total!
Day 11: 11 + 10 + 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (220 from the day before) = 286 Gifts total!
Now, hold onto you Santa hats! Here’s the twelfth day of Christmas!
Day 12: 12 + 11 + 10 + 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + (220 from the day before) = 364 Gifts total!
Why this Total Number of Gifts is Meaningful for the song, The 12 Days of Christmas
So, you’ve gotten down to the 12th Day of Christmas. You’ve sat down and tallied up your haul. 364 is a big number and all, but if the gift giver wanted to impress me, all the giver had to do is give 100 gifts. 364 would seem meaningless and a little excessive if we don’t look beyond the gifts!
There are 365 days in a Calendar year. So, the gift giver literally gave the singer a gift for every single day of the year excluding Christmas (or the gift giver’s birthday. I mean, who gives gifts on their own birthday, am I right?)
By the end of the song, the singer received:
22 Turtle Doves
30 French Hens
36 Calling Birds
40 Golden Rings
42 Egg-Laying Geese
40 Cow-Milking Maids,
36 Dancing Ladies,
30 Jumping Men,
22 Woodwind players,
You see the pattern here? This makes a pyramid of gifts, where the highest number of gifts is between Geese-A-Laying and Swans. Looking at Geese that lay eggs and Swans, you can see that one gift is for its ability to make money and the other gift is for the sake of beauty. One is an asset and the other is a liability.
Golden Rings and Milking Maids represent Elegance and Hard Work, respectively. Milking things require hands with no jewelry on them. My wife takes her rings off, when she washes dishes, cooks raw meats, etc.. Rings are meant to be worn on people, who do not plan to be working in them. This is the message the giver is giving the singer.
Calling Birds and Dancing Ladies both deal with talent. Calling birds are song birds and dancing ladies are… dancers. Song and Dance. One an immobile sign of vocal beauty, and the other is a mute display of mobile beauty. Both with art, but in two different ways.
The giver is tying the beauty of humanity with the beauty of nature. The beauty of elegance with the beauty of hard work. The beauty of display and the beauty of wealth building, ultimately giving the singer a daily reminder that work and play coexist, and that’s how the true love is offering life.
364 gifts equally divided with their meanings intertwined in number. Have a Merry Christmas.
2 replies on “The Symbolic Math Behind the Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas”
Cuz, thank you I would have never gone into facts and detail like you but this was very interesting, thank you I truly got a lot out of this info.
You’re welcome. There’s a lot of beauty in math. I just hope to find it in things. I believe if we can find the beauty, we can find the passion.