"It is sort of like a favorite Christmas decoration," says Tom Gauger, master of the midmorning airwaves at WMAL-AM. "People start calling at the first carol and want to know 'When are you going to play it?'

"I tell them very patiently, 'The day after Christmas.' "

Sure enough, Gauger played it again yesterday, a happy little sop to that Scrooge deep inside the best of us, a sparkling tribute to reality, to broken toys, drying trees and the trash pickup that isn't until next week:

"The 12 Days After Christmas," in all its serene cynicism.

Basically, the story goes like this. The day after Christmas the true lovers have a fight. One chops down the pear tree. The other shoots the partridge. And, as things like this tend to escalate, one then wrings the necks of the turtle-doves and the other makes the French hens into -- what else? Chicken soup. And so it goes.

Gauger, who has been at WMAL since 1968 but likes to point out that he is "still the junior man," says he first heard "Twelve Days After" done by the Navy Band "some years ago." The Navy Band confirms that it did it in a nationwide Christmas broadcast in 1973 with soloists Heidi Hunter and Tom VanVranken.

The WMAL version was recorded by a pair of singers described by Gauger as "a sort of local Nelson [Eddy] and Jeanette [MacDonald] -- David Troup and Dorothy Kingston."

But neither Gauger, who's played it every year he can remember since first hearing it in 1973, nor a spokesman for the Navy Band had a clue as to who wrote it.

ASCAP knew, though -- Frederick Silver, who wrote it as part of a revue called "Freddy Liked to Fugue." So wherever he is now, God bless him, everyone.

And, in case you missed it, here is more of what happened on "The Twelve Days After Christmas" sung to not quite the same tune as the other song, with just a soupc,on of dissonance:

The four calling birds were a big mistake

For their language was obscene.

The five golden rings were completely fake

They turned my fingers green.

On the Sixth Day after Christmas, the six laying geese wouldn't lay.

I gave the whole darn gaggle to the ASPCA.

On the Seventh Day what a mess I found.

For seven of his swimming swans had drowned.

The Eighth Day after Christmas

Before they could suspect

I bundled up the eight maids a'milking, nine pipers piping, 10 ladies dancing, 11 lords a'leaping, 12 drummers drumming . . .

She (aside and speaking): Well, actually I kept one of the drummers.

He (aside and speaking): Oh, that's okay. I kept one of the maids a'milking . . .

Both: . . . And sent them back collect.