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The ministry of sound: ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ tops charts for bad carols

Updated: December 10, 2012 8:47PM



Wait a minute—it’s not “four calling birds,” it’s four colly birds?

OK. But what the elf is a colly bird?

Ever since I was a little kid, every time I’ve been forced against my will to participate in a sing-along of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” I’ve always thought it was, “Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves” and of course that obligatory partridge in a pear tree, and what he’s doing up there is anybody’s guess.

Only recently was I informed it’s not “calling birds” but “colly birds,” i.e., blackbirds. At least that’s how it was originally scripted and sung — but I’m guessing that in about 99 percent of American renditions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” everyone’s singing “four calling birds.”

Not that it matters. Colly or calling, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” still gets my vote as the worst holiday song of all-time.

It’s the “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” of Christmas tunes.

Your ‘true love’ needs help

I’m not saying “The Twelve Days of Christmas” ranks beneath such unholy (literally and otherwise) aural disasters as “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” “Santa Baby,” anything by Mannheim Steamroller or the Chipmunks and of course the ever-execrable “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” (Why couldn’t the reindeer have pancaked Randy Brooks the moment he had the inspiration for this abomination?)

In addition to the aforementioned, we could come up with a list of at least a dozen other secular pop tunes more offensively awful than “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about carols and traditional tunes that have passed down through the generations. Songs with lyrics containing names and phrases such as “Hark!” and “Jesus” and “holy night” and “manger” or at least “Christmas,” as opposed to cutesy pop songs all about the Santa and the Rudolph and bells jingling.

One big problem with “Twelve Days” is there’s just not much of a melody. We start with the first day of Christmas and the true love giving you the partridge in a pear tree — with no explanation of whether the tree was already in the backyard and the partridge was somehow coaxed into flying in, or if the tree and the partridge were carted in.

After that it’s one thing after another, from the what’s-the-point (do the ladies keep dancing while the lords leap and the maids milk?) to the annoying (enough with the pipers and their piping) to only truly worthwhile gift on the list, five golden rings.

When we had to sing that song at Christmas pageants, we’d be halfway through and I’d be thinking, “Jesus Christ, we’re only up to No. 7, this thing is never going to end!”

And then I’d catch one of the nuns staring through me, knowing I’d just taken Jesus Christ’s name in vain, even though I’d only do so in my thoughts.

We had some seriously good nuns at St. Jude the Apostle.

The cost of Christmas

Urban legend to the contrary, “Twelve Days of Christmas” is not some secret, coded reference to various articles of faith, with each gift carrying a greater Biblical meaning. It’s just some 18th century English (some say originally French) Christmas carol that has inexplicably lived on for a couple hundred years.

Which leads to the perennially groan-inducing story about what it would cost to purchase all 12 days’ worth of gifts in today’s dollars.

From the AP:

“Add seven swans, six geese and five golden rings to the list of Christmas gifts that cost more than they did a year ago.

“And if you get all 364 items named in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ carol, you’ll pay 6.1 percent more this year, according to the so-called ‘Christmas Price Index’ that PNC Wealth Management updates annually. That comes to $107,300.”

Except it doesn’t, because nobody is ever buying all that crap, and how do you put a price tag on maids a’ milking anyway?

Yes. I know it’s the leaping point for a story on the cost of living. But I’d rather see someone tell us what it would cost to light your house like Clark Griswold did in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” or buy the house that was for sale at the end of the original “Miracle on 34th Street,” or the costs Mary and Joe would incur in 2012 as an uninsured couple.

Wait. That sounds even worse.

Everybody sing! “On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer…”



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