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The Economics of Christmas


Posted At: 12 December 2008 17:17 PM
Related Categories: Retail Suppliers


I was going to a blog about the average cost of Christmas, but have since realised I’ve banged on about very similar topics in other posts. Therefore, we turn to economics. Similar topic, but more depressing.

The Christmas Price Index is an American economic indicator run by The PNC Financial Services Group, which calculates the price of the goods as reported in the carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.

That’s right. The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There are two calculators on the site, both great. The Christmas Price Index adds together the cost of the items in the carol each year, while the True Cost of Christmas in Song follows the rules (i.e. buying a partridge in a pear tree every day, 2 turtle doves every day from the second day and so on and so fourth).

Its interesting stuff, when you consider that, although light-hearted fun, the indexes do actually reflect the changes in the American economy year on year! Prices of labour have risen (the lords and ladies), the swans are quite a high cost (due to uncertain breeding cycles), partridges are really cheap and the price of everyday goods has fallen! Amazing.


Anyway, to the facts…

  • In 1984, it would have cost you $12,623.10 to buy all the items mentioned in the song. To buy them true to rule, it would have cost you $61,318.94.
  • The most expensive item would have been seven swans a swimming, at $1000 each. Swans are still the most expensive item 24 years on, though the price has now dropped to $800 each (a 33% increase on 2007 prices)
  • In 1986, the price of pear trees rose over 50%
  • And in 1987, the value of gold shot up 172.73%, sending the price of 5 gold rings soaring from $275 to $750
  • The price of the list (not true) experienced the biggest fluctuation in 1995, where it fell 21% YoY
  • The true cost of the items in the song was highest to date in 2008, where they would have set a hopeless romantic back a shocking $86,608.51!
  • Being a milk maid is clearly not the job to be in; it would cost you just $52.40 to hire 8 maids a milking in 2008; $6.55 each!
  • Pipers, however – presumably due to a distinct lack of them now – have gone up to $2284 for 11 in 2008, from $770 in 1984.

    And a breakdown of the items, mostly written by PCN…


  • Partridge/pear tree – Topped $140 in 2001 when good weather made the trees taller and more costly
  • Turtle Doves – All time low in 2004 due to successful breeding cycles producing more birds
  • French hens – French hens were most expensive in 2004. There was a low hatchling rate and fears of the avian flu virus caused breeders to move away from decorative breeds
  • Calling Birds – 2003/4 was an unstable year for birds across the board, it seems, as low hatchling rates caused the prices of normal birds to rise significantly
  • Gold Rings – Black Monday effected the prices of  gold in ’87, when prices went through the roof
  • Geese – again, low hatchling rates and flu fears meant birds prices were high, comprising 25% of the total cost of Christmas in 2004
  • Swans – in 1995, dedicated breeders increased the population so significantly that prices of swans halved
  • Milk maids – following the minimum wage increases, milk maids re now slightly better off than they had been in previous years
  • Dancing ladies – in 2006, rising labour costs exceeded inflation for the first time since the beginning of the index, and performance artist have seen their wages increase steadily over the years
  • Lords – As with the dancing ladies, lords a leaping have experienced gradual wage increases since the beginning of the index
  • Pipers – Pipers are also benefiting from increased wages
  • Drummers – and drummers are no different


Not being a big fan of economics – or numbers in general, really – I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this site and would suggest it to anyone currently introducing their children to the concept of supply and demand. Adults, however, can head on over to our Retail and Economic Statistics page, where an all together more serious picture can be reviewed at your pleasure. 

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