Two Turtledoves, My Love

Jared Christman, 19, a machine-age man-a-milking, on David Weitzer's dairy farm in Poolesville.
Jared Christman, 19, a machine-age man-a-milking, on David Weitzer's dairy farm in Poolesville. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the third day of Christmas in Washington, my true love realized that French hens get no formal recognition from bird experts in North America.

And by the fourth day, on the hunt for calling birds, my true love discovered that all birds make noise, which gives Santa quite a bit of wiggle room, and Santa should never be allowed to wiggle.

True loves seeking to procure the gifts in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" might be as disappointed as a child who asks for a puppy and gets a plastic robot without moving parts. Many presents named in the old English carol, a song some date to the late 18th century, are not commonplace in the modern world or require a permit. And who wants a maid to milk when a machine can do it more quickly and cheaply?

"We couldn't afford to milk them by hand, not with the cost of labor," said David Weitzer, a Poolesville dairy farmer who estimated the upkeep of a dairy cow at $10 a day. Caring for eight dairy cows, without eight maids-a-milking, would cost $29,200 a year.

This year, the cost of buying everything from a partridge in a pear tree (sold separately) to 12 drummers drumming is $19,507, according to PNC Financial Services Group's 23rd annual Christmas Price Index, a tongue-in-cheek cost analysis. The cost of the gifts in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is up 3.1 percent from last year; PNC attributed the rise to higher gold prices and increases in the minimum wage.

"Over the years, it does tie us back into what's going on in the economy," said James Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management. The U.S. government's consumer price index, widely used as a measure of inflation, is up about 3.5 percent this year.

"Wages are going up, but the good news is they have more to spend," Dunigan said.

A Washington Post analysis put the cost of the "Twelve Days" list at $36,264.39. The total included a free trip to Theodore Roosevelt Island to see geese laying eggs in the spring, $150 each to pay lords from the royal court at the Maryland Renaissance Festival and $245 to see the Spice Girls in concert twice at Verizon Center, as long as one Spice Girl is sick for the second performance, bringing to nine the number of ladies dancing. Owning eight cows, which is required to milk them, pushed The Post's estimate higher than the PNC index, whose calculations were based on paying laborers the minimum wage.

If none of that makes sense, my true love might need a refresher:

The carol calls for one partridge in a pear tree, two turtledoves, three French hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, six geese-a-laying, seven swans-a-swimming, eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, 11 pipers piping and 12 drummers drumming.

The gold rings are easy. Tom Conway, a gemologist sales associate at Boone & Sons Jewelers in downtown Washington, said a standard 14-karat gold ring sells for about $250. But, he cautioned, the sex of the gift's recipient will determine the cost.

"If the guy's singing it, that's a lot more expensive than a girl singing," he said, noting that men's rings are bigger and therefore more expensive.

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