12 days of Christmas

I spent the whole day yesterday trying to play the role of a consummate politician - I run for director of the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines. By some stroke of luck, I won despite the intense and highly sophisticated (there are other words I can use to describe it, but I will refrain from doing so in the spirit of the season) campaign staged by the other group. But here's my column yesterday. Sorry, delayed na naman.

Some e-mails are certain to land in my inbox around this time every year. I am not talking about solicitations and all types of special holiday offers although I do get those, too. One e-mail I don’t mind receiving is that interactive electronic Christmas card that you click on several times to get a colorful tableau featuring a dog and cat frolicking in the snow under a candle-lit Christmas tree.

The other e-mail I invariably get every year is the one explaining the supposed real meaning of that popular Christmas carol, “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I still have to receive the electronic Christmas card this year. But I already received that e-mail about the Twelve Days of Christmas, including a link to the Pittsburgh National Corp.’s annual Christmas Price Index (www.pncchristmaspriceindex.com ).

I think it is good that there is actually a business organization that does a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the economics of Christmas gift-giving. Indeed, a little sense of humor does not hurt even if you are a giant financial institution. What is even more amazing is that they have been doing the survey to determine what they call the PNC Christmas Price Index in the last 22 years. The survey aims to determine how much, on Christmas, our “true loves” actually spend on us. The group then calculates the total cost of all those drummers, pipers, dancing ladies, birds and that partridge in a pear tree. Then it compares the results with those of the previous years.

This year’s verdict is that the cost of the 12 days of Christmas is $18,920. The amount translates to almost a million Philippine pesos, signifying a 3.1 increase over 2005 figures. The culprit is said to be low unemployment, which jacked up the prices of live entertainment in the United States “the carol requires 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, and eight maids a milking.” The group likewise computes what it calls the “true cost of Christmas” —the total cost of items gifted by a “true love” who repeats all the verses in the carol. For 2006, they will pay more, around $75,122 for all 364 items.

I know what you are thinking. There are more important things to worry about other than computing the cost implications of the items recited in a seemingly silly carol. Actually, the annual survey is said to mirror trends in the general economy and is claimed to be a good indicator of how expensive or inexpensive Christmas has become year in and year out. Because it is based on a Christmas carol, it enables people to do the math without sounding like Scrooge’s disciple. We know celebrating Christmas costs money, but complaining about the rising costs of gifts just does not seem right.

The survey is conducted in the United States so we have no idea how our local data compares. As a human resource management practitioner, I am interested in finding out how rising labor costs impact the economics of Christmas. Are dancing ladies (not necessarily those in the red light district), musicians such as drummers and pipers earning more this year compared to last year? I know for a fact that the demand for really good live bands has increased this year because we had difficulty finding a suitable band for our Christmas party at work. Are maids-a-milking paid minimum wages in this country? Is the bird flue scare affecting sales of birds? Korea this week torched millions of its fowls on account of the bird flu epidemic.

To add proof that certain things like a seemingly inane Christmas carol is more than what it is supposed to be, there is that raging discussion among theology scholars about which days are referred to as the 12 days of Christmas. The predominant opinion seems to be that the 12 days being referred to in the carol are the twelve days between Christmas day and the Epiphany (Jan. 6). There are those who say it refers to the 12 days before Christmas.
I guess what is more noteworthy to discuss is whether the 12 days of Christmas referred to in the carol represent something else. According to the e-mail I receive every year, 12 days of Christmas is a religious symbolism within the Christian faith. I searched for empirical sources but sadly, there seems to be none. Many Internet sites consider this interpretation of the 12 days as an urban myth. Then again, what harm does it do to anyone if we attach symbolic meaning to a Christmas carol?

So for those who have not come across that e-mail explaining the supposed real significance of the 12 days of Christmas, here is the supposed history: From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote the carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It had two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol is a code for a religious reality which the children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree refers to Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger. The two turtle doves refer to the two version of the Bible—Old and the New Testaments. The three French hens stand for the three pillars of Catholicism—faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds supposedly refer to the four gospels and evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The five golden rings recall the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation. The seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit—namely, prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy.

The eight maids a-milking refer to the eight beatitudes (too long to cite here). The nine ladies dancing are supposed to refer to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

The 10 lords a-leaping of course refer to the Ten Commandments. The 11 pipers piping stand for the 11 faithful disciples. And finally, the 12 drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there. All together now. “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

* * *

My column last Monday entitled “Pushing the limits in advertising” generated unprecedented reactions. I got at least 17 e-mails, all expressing agreement with what I wrote. One reader, Mr. Ray Soberano wrote: “I guess sometimes people are just getting (plain) lazy that they equate creativity with being direct and to-the-point. Subtlety somehow died a long time ago.” I agree with him.


hi, bong! i hope your ear's fine. anyway, congrats on the PMAP post. you know, i am having difficulties of getting NCR companies to go on board with us (PBSP) on the Private Sector Mobilization for Family Health project (PRISM). Sayang coz we are helping companies install a responsive workplace family health program free of cost since it is funded by USAID. since it is a project, there are counterparts of course in the form of company time of employees to be trained and to work on the project and the commitment to sustain the program.

initially, the primary focus of the family health program is family planning, which is in line with DOLE DO 56-03 on rationalizing the implementation of the family welfare program. next to family planning would be maternal and child health.

if your company is interested, drop me a line. My number is 0915-7020077. if you want to refer me to some of your friends who are also hr managers, i would appreciate it.

have a good weekend, bong!

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