In the words of the actually quite-hard-to-understand Charlie Brown chorale, Christmastime is here…carols everywhere. And of all the carols to be found decking the halls with Muzak, my least favorite is “The Little Drummer Boy.” Because, seriously, who invited the kid with a snare to the manger to drop some mad paradiddles for the formerly sleeping Christ child? The donkey? Bah, humbug. Sadly, “The Little Drummer Boy” did not prove fertile enough ground for 900 words of comedy pyrite. Which brings us to my second-least-favorite Yule tune, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s long, tedious, full of birds and allusions to indentured servitude (to put it nicely), and irresistible to advertising jingle writers. Also, weird. So, as I am wont, I shall now mansplain the meaning behind these odd, Victorian gifts and posit suitable contemporary replacements for those keen on keeping the dream alive. Whose dream? No idea. A Partridge in a Pear Tree – As children longing for a certain video game system, my brother and I would sing, “And a cartridge in an Atari.” To punish our hideous punnery, our mom put the Atari box in an even larger box with bricks inside so we couldn’t tell what it was. True story. What’s also true is that I haven’t a clue as to why someone would give another person an annoying bird that reminds you of the gift giver with every warble, cackle, eye-scratch and “gift from above.” A friendlier version for today’s retro-inspired Secret Santa: Set all your lovely’s ringtones to Partridge Family song “I Think I Love You.” Did I say “Secret Santa”? I meant “Secret Satan.” Two Turtle Doves – This is what passed for a double cheeseburger in the early 1800s. Part bird, part turtle, all nasty. Refined palates, indeed. Do everyone a favor and get your honeybunch a double-double from In-N-Out. If said honeybunch prefers tofu, eat it yourself. Better to give and receive back and whatnot. Three French Hens – The French hen was originally scheduled to be in the partridge’s slot. Unfortunately, when one French hen surrenders, two more invariably follow suit. There is, luckily, no direct modern analog to this gift. Therefore, it is suggested that you go with two baguettes and a Blu-ray of “Les Miserables” with all the Russell Crowe parts cut out. Nothing says love like risking a phone to the face. And nothing says timely Christmas comedy like a nine-year-old celebrity reference. Four Calling Birds – Does your cherished one suffer bouts of insufferable loneliness when your presences are not congruently aligned on the space-time continuum so that even a Dr. Who marathon offers meager consolation? In ye oldenne dayes, such gloom was doomed with the arrival of a quartet of quail trained to call your name nonstop and ask when you planned on starting a family because, let’s face it, you’re not getting any younger. A suitable present-day replacement? A Tracfone with four months’ worth of pre-paid calling cards. Love means never paying for data overages. Or data at all. It’s in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. Near the part about Ricardo Montalban’s rich leather. Five Gold Rings – A reference to the ancient Five-Point-Palm Exploding-Heart-Technique, the five gold rings symbolized the power the recipient had over the gift-giver’s Aorta of Love. While the symbology has been lost to those not named Tarantino, gold rings remain a great gift from an investment standpoint assuming everyone on AM talk radio is correct. Just make sure you keep the One Ring to rule them all. Six Geese-a-Laying – Sweet Moses, what was it with the Victorians and their fowl? This half-dozen gaggle-o-goobers was actually a trick gift. If your beloved didn’t slap you with either a cease-and-desist order or a be-spiked gauntlet in return for proffering these be-poopifying ninnies, you were undoubtedly considered the bee’s knees (which, by the by, were the fallback gift if you didn’t have the coin for five gold rings). A more contemporary test of devotion can be had by gifting your besmitten a six-pack of Celine Dion CDs. Like the geese, it is Canadian, annoying [which is not redundant – Ed.] and able to honk across five octaves. Happy birthday, Jesus, indeed. Seven Swans-a-Swimming – This final (PTL!) batch of birds – graceful and stately – could be considered the anti-geese. But, in truth, swans are actually nastier creatures, prone to stealing your lunch while gossiping about the neighbor’s “nasal adjustment.” The joy of this gift lies in the fact that they’re swimming. Which means the giver has paid to have a pool installed. In contemporary terms, it’s the equivalent of giving someone a Lexus with one of the giant novelty bows. Which is quite the garish thing to do. My advice: A subscription to the Swanson TV Dinner Salisbury Steak-of-the-Month Club. Say “I care,” not “I had to.” Eight Maids-a-Milking – The maids naturally came with cows (I’m assuming they weren’t milking cats). And the cows came with cow pies. Do your sweetums a solid and give the gift of barbecue. From Kansas City. Preferably Oklahoma Joe’s. But I digress. Nine Ladies Dancing / Ten Lords-a-Leaping – No one is entirely sure what the point was behind this “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and a Loser Cousin” conglomeration. Perhaps some sort of corset-and-ascot battle royale in which the lone remaining lord gets poofed with wig powder. Did I say perhaps? I meant probably for sure. In today’s gift-o-sphere, try nine tweeners texting and ten hipsters trying on skinny jeans. On second thought, unfriending the recipient is easier. Eleven Pipers Piping – The only thing on this list that makes any sense. God bless the pipes and all who compress the noble squeezebag. A good set of bagpipes will set you back more than a few haggisses full of gold (found at the end of the stinkiest rainbow ever), so your only alternative is a used DVD of “So I Married an Axe Murderer” from Craigslist. Or steal the set your weird Uncle Todd has in his garage. Twelve Drummers Drumming – Nothing says “your love has conquered my heart and annexed it like the British did Fiji in 1862” quite like a military drum corps. Sadly, that was a failed annexation. Much like all attempts to pitch suitable woo are destined to falter upon the alter of a dozen Tommy Lees. Nonetheless, if you insist on enumerating twelve somethings doing something to declare your yuletide besottedness, it’s hard to go wrong with a dozen masseuses masseusing. Trade in the Celine CDs for some old school Enya and you’ll be like the British annexing Fiji in 1874. Ohhhh yeahhhh. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hark some herald angels into sharing their nog.
This column originally appeared in the December 2014 edition of Chatter Magazine and can, if Scribd.com still exists, be found here.