For nearly forty years, the Christmas Price Index (CPI) has been a lighthearted holiday tradition that examines the cost of purchasing all of the presents in the classic holiday song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s a play on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that measures the average change over time in the prices paid by consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.
The Christmas Price Index calculations are done by PNC Bank in Philadelphia, and this year, the elves at the bank compared 2021 prices to 2019 data to better gauge the impact of inflation given that 2020 was such an anomaly. Prices for just about everything are rising at rates not seen in more than three decades due to the impact of a-once-in-a-century pandemic and a snarled supply chain.
But first, what are the 12 days of Christmas? The 12 days of Christmas in the song is a reference to Christianity for the period beginning on December 25th with the birth of Christ and continuing until the coming of the three wise men on January 6th, a day known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. The weeks leading up to Christmas are known as Advent. Many historians believe the song originates from a children’s memory game where each player repeats all the previously sung lyrics and then adds the next one. The first printed version of the song appeared in a children’s book in 1780. The original lyrics are a bit different than the words we know today. The “four calling birds” were “four colly birds,” meaning birds dark as coal. In other versions of the song, the partridge in a pear tree was a peacock. A Scottish rendition of the song gifts “an Arabian baboon.” In 1909, a British composer penned the version of the song that most people are familiar with today.
According to PNC Bank’s annual calculations, a partridge in a pear tree will set you back $222.68 this year which is a 6% increase over 2019. However, it’s the price of the tree that is driving the increase. The tree rose from $189.99 to $202.50 while the price of the partridge – $20.18 – stayed the same. The price of two turtledoves has soared 50% to $450 this year. The price of three French hens is up 40.5% to $255 in 2021. Four calling birds will set you back $599.96 again this year, which is the same as pre-pandemic pricing. Five gold rings will cost $895, an 8.5% increase. Six geese-a-laying jumped in price by more than 57.1% to $660, the highest increase of any gift in the index. Seven swans-a-swimming are typically the most expensive gift in the CPI at $13,125, so buyers will be happy to know the price is the same as it was in 2019. PNC gets its partridge and turtle dove prices from a national bird supplier and its geese price from a waterfowl farm, while hatcheries provide the cost of hens and swans. A national pet chain provides the cost of calling birds.
Moving on to services and live performances, the eight maids-a-milking will cost $58 in 2021 based on a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Nine ladies dancing were not available last year due to restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing requirements, but they are back this year. PNC uses a modern dance troupe to estimate the price which is $7,552.84, the same as in 2019. Ten lords-a-leaping rose 12.6% to $11,260 in 2021 based on the cost of ballet performances. Eleven pipers piping are available in 2021 for $2,943.93, the same price as last year had they been able to perform. Twelve drummers drumming ring in at a cost of $3,183.17 in 2021, up from $2,972.25 in 2019.
In total, the cost of all of the gifts in the song rose 5.4% to $41,205.58. However, if the gifter repeats each gift every time it is mentioned in the song, there would be 364 presents which would bring the total cost of a true love Christmas to a whopping $179,454.19.