After the 12 Days of Christmas

Yearly these 12 days of Christmas bring us many gifts: partridges, pear trees, and many maids equipped with pails. Our writer recounts the bevy of presents, and responds.

My True Love,

Having passed these 12 extraordinary Days of Christmas, I am frankly overwhelmed by your unbridled generosity, and by the chaos you have wrought upon my household. The pear tree and partridge that arrived on the first day of your astonishing onslaught was as fine a gift as ever I received, yet by the end of the twelfth day, my garden had become a veritable orchard of pear trees and partridges. And as you know, this was but one of your excessive inspirations.

At the dawn of each new day, I found myself the stunned recipient of both a single new, remarkable gift, as well as an ever-escalating string of duplicates. According to my wife—whose curiosity has given way to terrifying fits of wrath and jealousy—we are, at last, the sorry keepers of:

12 Partridges in Pear Trees
22 Turtle Doves
30 French Hens
36 Calling Birds
40 Golden Rings
42 Geese a-Laying
42 Swans a-Swimming
40 Maids a-Milking
36 Ladies Dancing
30 Lords a-Leaping
22 Pipers Piping
12 Drummers Drumming

The 184 birds, 12 trees, 40 rings, 40 head of cattle (which you thoughtfully included with the maids), and 140 men and women (bearing no fewer than 34 musical instruments) come to a grand total of 450 gifts. To say nothing of the eggs and milk.

Let me describe to you, as a clarifying example, what has now become an average day in our home. I woke today at dawn to the singing, chirping, and honking of the great flock, despite having shut and barred the doors, closed and insulated all the windows of my room, stuffed my ears with cotton balls and candle wax, and buried my head beneath a small mountain of blankets, counterpanes, and pillows.

Rising in despair, I opened the bedroom door to find the birds had also stirred the pipers and drummers, who, having little else to do at five in the morning, greeted me with sonorous proof that pipes and drums do not a pleasant music make. My wife was in the kitchen, marshalling the maids, who had entered the house with sloshing buckets of freshly uddered cream and dozens of newly minted eggs. Had not my wife decided on the morning of the eleventh day to press the idle maids into the critical business of egg collecting, I shudder to think of what horrendous, sulfurous doom awaited us. The maids were not, it must be said, pleased to work a second shift after the strenuous work of milking forty cows. They greet my wife as if she were a wicked queen: silently, their acquiescent tongues betrayed by cold, derisive eyes.

Which brings me to the ladies dancing…what were you thinking? From the moment they arrived upon the ninth day, dressed (if ‘dressed’ can be the proper word) in silken skirts and glittering spangles, they have selflessly provided entertainments of a most alarming kind, alarming for the constant presence of my wife, from whom my frequent glances at their shimmering, jewel-encrusted navels cannot be concealed. This very morning, the ladies dancing were relegated vi et armis to the guest cottage. You have, in short, given me a harem, though I am not at liberty to sup upon that table. They are tireless, dancing endlessly throughout my tortured mind. Even the swans—sailing silently across the pond—have failed to give me peace.

My wife has seized the golden rings: two for every toe and finger. Were it not for these, she might have sent the whole fantastic lot directly back, postage unpaid.

I write this letter from the confines of my bed, having earlier been knocked senseless by the leaping lords who leapt, as they are wont to do, out of nowhere. I can smell the sweetness of the rotting pears wafting from the garden. The songs of birds are faintly audible above the harsh, incessant pipes and drums. Glittering hips and bellies dance before my eyes. I plan, by cover of night, to steal toward the cottage for a visit, yet the barricade of maids and slumbering musicians, eggs and souring bucketfuls of milk, nests of intricate variety and size, the constant, unexpected peril of the leaping lords, and finally the fearsome, glowering eye of my embattled wife, will likely hinder my escape. Hope is dim.

Your love has devastated me. I think it wise that we refrain from meeting for a while. Please stop sending gifts.