The Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl! Read a couple great posts about the little team that could from Michele PW and Mike Leeds this week.

Michele wrote about how everyone counted the Cardinals out, and no one thought they could do it. But against all odds, they DID IT. And we can and should approach our businesses with the same tenacity.

Mike went in a different direction to discuss the concept of sports fan etiquette, something I’d never considered before. Politics and religion have long been taboo subjects in the office, known to ignite intense controversy, while sports has always been a pretty safe bet. But what happens when you’re rooting for one team and your boss (and/or coworkers) are rooting for the other? Mike gives some great tips about how to be an enthusiastic fan without becoming boorish about it.

Reading Mike’s post got me to thinking about etiquette in other areas of life … which, of course, led me back to the holidays and gift-giving/Christmas stocking etiquette.

First, it helps to know what, precisely, is meant by the word. The first definition from dictionary.com is:

et⋅i⋅quette

[et-i-kit, -ket] – noun

1. conventional requirements as to social behavior; proprieties of conduct as established in any class or community or for any occasion.
2. a prescribed or accepted code of usage in matters of ceremony, as at a court or in official or other formal observances.
3. the code of ethical behavior regarding professional practice or action among the members of a profession in their dealings with each other: medical etiquette.

Origin:
1740–50; < F étiquette, MF estiquette ticket, memorandum, deriv. of estiqu(i)er to attach, stick < Gmc. See stick 2 , -ette

So, basically, we’re talking about proper, polite, classy behavior that’s not going to create ill-will or stir up bad reactions in others. Seems easy enough when it comes to gift-giving, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Tips for Being a Good Gift-Giver

  • Make sure the person to whom you are giving the gift will like it. This may seem rather obvious, but think back to some of the gifts you’ve received. If you’ve ever had that “What the hell were they thinking?!??” thought cross your mind on opening a gift, assess whether you might ever unintentionally create the same response in someone else. That techno gadget may seem cool to you, but you’re not going to be the one using it now, are you?
  • Avoid those obligatory “just because” gifts. Really. If your heart’s not in it, don’t waste your time or money because the recipient will know you picked it up at Home Depot or Staples on your way to the party and it will either be re-gifted, tossed in the trash bin, or sit on a shelf in the closet collecting dust. If etiquette calls for a gift and you don’t know the person well, do some research to find out what they’d like or opt for a gift card.
  • Be sure your gift is lifestyle appropriate for the person receiving it. A large box of Godiva chocolates may be a fantastic gift for one person, but it would be incredibly insensitive for someone with diabetes. Likewise, a gorgeous, personalized Christmas stocking might delight one person, but giving the same gift to someone who is Jewish, Muslim, or does not celebrate Christmas would be disrespectful and could even be perceived as offensive.

Appropriate Gifts for Your Boss

The “women in business” page on About.com had some interesting advice about gifts for the boss. The gist of the question was about the appropriateness of giving your boss a hand-made gift … but the advice is more generic and actually quite helpful.

Generally speaking, the appropriateness of a handmade gift depends on what it is and how well you know your boss. Scented candles are nice and may demonstrate your talent, but not everyone appreciates scented items. Art is also a matter of personal taste, so before you wrap and present that opus magnum into which you’ve poured days and weeks of your life, be absolutely certain it will be appreciated. If you do give a painting, pottery, or any sort of display item, you probably want to keep it small.

No matter how talented you are, the last thing you want to do is make your boss feel obligated to display, use, or consume anything you make.

Like we discussed earlier, you must give the gift with the recipient’s tastes in mind, not yours. While your friends and/or family might appreciate a hand-made gift from you because of the close relationship you have with them, your boss is not necessarily going to have a similar response. And you cannot make him/her wrong for that!

Your boss will be most likely to appreciate something that has a practical use. Your goal with a gift to a fellow business professional is to communicate that you value and appreciate them … not so much the “handmade with love” message.

Christmas Stocking Etiquette

  • Make sure you’ve got a stocking for everyone! If you will have a house guest celebrating with your family at the time you will be opening stockings, be sure you’ve got a stocking for them, too.
  • Allow the guest to take the stocking with them when they depart. This question came up in response to my Google search for “Christmas stocking etiquette,” and my first thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding me!!” Of course your guests should take their stockings home with them! Why on earth would you buy/make them a stocking if you didn’t intend for them to take it home? Just have enough sense not to designate as theirs an expensive stocking or family heirloom you prefer to keep. Yes, there’s something to be said for having all the stockings match your decor perfectly. There’s also common sense. Pull it out of the linen closet at the last minute, if you don’t want the guest’s stocking to clash with your decorations.
  • On the other hand, just because you offer to allow them to take it, realize they may politely decline. Who knows – perhaps they’ve got piles of stockings at their house and just don’t need another one. Whatever their reason, unless they are ungracious (and even if they are), suggest that your guest take the stocking, but be flexible and fine with it if they prefer not to.
    • Fill the stockings proportionately, but don’t make yourself crazy about this. When you’ve got little kids (and maybe even older kids), it’s sometimes really important to do things proportionately. If Johnny gets 7 items in his stocking, Janie gets 7 in hers. But sometimes trying to be fair and equal can get preposterous. Just don’t go overboard and fill one stocking to the brim, while all the others look like they each contain a miniature Hershey bar and a stick of gum.
    • Take care with the size of your stockings! The bigger it is, the more it will take to fill it. I still think the dollar store is a great place to find stocking stuffers … but even that can add up if you’ve got four or five giant stockings with big gaping mouths.

    Post Script

    Gotta love the rant about Christmas carol etiquette … where else? At the Christmas Rants blog.

    Question: Are there reasons to give Christmas
    stockings once Christmas has passed?


    Answer: You bet!


    Wedding

    Although the wedding register is a now-traditional aspect of bridal fever, I tend to eschew the itemized “want list” in favor of a more personal gift. Nothing could be more personal than giving a pair of Christmas stockings to a newly married couple.

    The stockings need not be identical to work, as long as they complement and flatter each other, rather than clashing horribly by being mismatched in terms of size, color, fabric choice, or general design. It helps if you know the couple’s tastes, colors, and/or home decor theme.

    Whether you make the stockings yourself or purchase them elsewhere (here!), consider stitching the wedding date somewhere onto the face of the stocking to commemorate the couple’s union.

    Baby Shower

    When a woman or couple is preparing to welcome a new baby (either through pregnancy or adoption), the last thing they likely are considering is the baby’s first Christmas. As with the newlyweds, if you know them well enough to know their taste, color preferences, and/or home decor, a Christmas stocking can be a welcome gift for a new baby. Depending on the couple’s tastes, a stocking that incorporates baby-themed flannel or cotton prints in bright or pastel colors might work well.

    If the couple has opted not to learn the child’s gender or name the baby ahead of time, you may want to include a note offering to affix the baby’s name to the stocking after the birth, once the name has been determined.

    Like the wedding date for the newlyweds, it can be a nice touch to add the baby’s birth date to the stocking.

    Housewarming

    Kitchen gadgets, cookbooks, houseplants, bottles of wine … all make great, but boring, housewarming gifts. A great gift for the new homeowner – particularly a first-time home buyer – is a Christmas stocking that matches their taste and decor. Most people move earlier in the year, so when the holidays roll around, your friend or loved one will likely be grateful to you for your thoughtful gift of a personalized stocking.

    New Office or Business

    Have you ever seen stockings used as decorations at places like banks, the dentist’s office, or your dry cleaner? Ever wonder where they come from and who puts the names on them? I do!

    If someone you know is opening a new business or storefront, a set of Christmas stockings can make the perfect congratulatory gift. Like the case of the new baby, you can always offer to personalize the stockings at a later time – or make them so festive and gorgeous that names become completely unnecessary.

    The fact is, stockings are still primarily a facet of the Christmas celebration … but they make wonderful gifts year-round.

    Although Christmas is celebrated throughout the Christian population, it also is celebrated worldwide by many non-Christians as a secular, cultural festival. What many people may not realize is that a number of the Christian traditions around the celebration of the birth of Christ actually have pagan origins.

    The second holiest day on the Christian calendar (Easter being the holiest day) bears Christ’s name, but many Christmas practices began hundreds of years before he was born, some going back more than 4,000 years. Winter solstice celebrations such as Saturnalia and Yule eventually gave way to the celebration of Christ’s birth, even though most historians believe Christ was probably born in September. One reason most agree it’s very unlikely that Jesus was born in December is the mention in the Bible of shepherds tending their sheep in the fields that night, which would have been quite unlikely during Judah’s cold winter.

    Solstice Traditions

    In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (the Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. This feast involved raucous partying, indulgence in food and drink, and lavish gift-giving. Additionally, in Rome the winter solstice was known as Saturnalia, as it honored Saturn, the god of agriculture. In January, the Romans also observed the Kalends, which celebrated the triumph of life over death. The entire season was known as Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, meaning the Birth of the Unconquered Sun.

    In northern Europe, pagans had their own winter solstice celebration, which was known as Yule. This feast commemorated the birth of the pagan sun god, Mithras, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. The word Yule means “wheel,” which was a pagan symbol for the sun.

    The merging of the celebration of Christ’s birth with the winter solstice did not occur until more than 300 years after Christ died, when Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the Christmas holy day. It is believed he was trying to make it easier for the Romans to convert to Christianity by allowing them to preserve some of their favorite feasts. Because of these pagan origins, some devout Christian sects like the Puritans forbade their members from celebrating Christmas, even into the late 1800s.

    History of Modern Customs Traditions mistletoe

    Modern customs related to the holiday include gift-giving, religious celebrations, and the display of various decorations – including the Christmas tree, lights, mistletoe, nativity scenes, holly, and of course, stockings.

    • In contemporary tradition, Santa Claus and Father Christmas are generally thought of as one and the same character, although they arose out of different traditions. Santa is generally believed to be the result of a blend between the actual St. Nicholas and elements from pagan Nordic and Christian mythology.
    • Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant by the Druids, and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual.
    • The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the pagan Winter Solstice tradition, which included the use of evergreen cuttings in an adaptation of pagan tree worship. Scandinavians hung apples from evergreen trees at the winter solstice to remind themselves that spring and summer would come again. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century, although some argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century.
    • The Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and placed candles in live trees to decorate for the celebration of Saturnalia.

    So one of the biggest things I’ve been procrastinating is taking down the Christmas decorations and lights. They’re fun to put up, and great fun to enjoy while they’re up, but then you have to take them down. 😦

    There’s a DJ on KLOVE radio who drives me a little bit crazy with all her folksy stories about her home, her family, and her kids. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I just don’t find most conversations along those lines all that interesting … not just from her, but from any DJ … and it’s the first thing that will cause me to change the station. That being said, the other day, this gal made a comment about “corralling the Christmas ornaments,” that I thought was timely and clever.

    She mentioned going around the house and collecting the decorations and ornaments, herding them, as it were, to the dining room table where they waited to be packed back into their boxes for storage until next Christmas. And how even as you’ve made the rounds a couple times, thinking you’ve finally got them all, a week after everything’s been put away, you’ll almost invariably find an errant reindeer lurking from a hidden corner.groundhogvalentinewoodencutout

    Well, I was late to the decorating party this year, so I didn’t put out too many ornaments. As a result, there will be no real need for corralling – but I just really enjoyed the image it created for me, and I hope you do, too!

    Happy cleaning, packing, storing, and preparing for the next big seasonal holiday … Groundhog’s Day Valentine’s Day!

    OK, so I’ve already mentioned what a geek I am about Christmas lights. L-O-V-E them. So you’d think, after 9 winters in Phoenix, I would have made it to Zoo Lights at the Phoenix Zoo before now. Alas, I did not. I even placed an ad on Craigslist to find someone to go with me this season … and while I’ve had about 75 responses, for a variety of reasons – but mostly scheduling challenges – none has, as of yet, turned into a date to Zoo Lights.

    So I finally wound up going tonight with  my eccentric next door neighbor. He’s been wanting to go for a long time, too – he was actually the one who put the idea in my head to post to CL to try to find someone to go with because he was away visiting his family in Las Vegas over the holidays.

    All I can say is it was well worth the wait! Amazing to look at, and stroll through. They were still playing Christmas carols, which, in this case was a very nice thing. And although it was great fun to walk through with a neighborly buddy, I have to tell you, I can scarcely think of anything that would make a nicer (i.e., more romantic) first, second, or third date. Delightful, enchanting, intoxicating … none of those words overstates the experience.

    While the moon makes for a very cool effect, the glare somewhat diminishes the amazing result of this all-blue tree.

    My only disappointment was that the otters (my second favorite exhibit, but second only to the turtles, which you can see for free at the entryway to the zoo) were nowhere to be seen. According the the program, zebras, flamingos, and otters are among the most nocturnal creatures, and ones we could expect to see. We saw – and smelled – javalina, up close and personal. Saw the pink birds memorialized on lawns across America. Saw what might have been zebras from a great distance – either that or ponies or large dogs. But the otters, alas, were MIA.

    So here are some fun facts about Phoenix’s Zoo Lights:

    • They use 2.5 million individual lights
    • One tree can have as many as 15,000 lights
    • It takes a 4-person crew about 12 weeks to install the lights, or 2,000 (hu)man-hours
    • The zoo has a full-time, year-round staff dedicated to installing, removing, planning, designing, and building Zoo Lights displays

    Shawn and I at the entrance to Zoo Lights

    Shawn and I at the entrance to Zoo Lights

    OTHER CITIES WITH ZOO LIGHTS DISPLAYS

    Portland

    Washington, D.C.

    Point Defiance, Washington

    Denver

    Chicago

    Oakland

    Memphis

    Salt Lake City

    Gainesville, Texas

    So if you live anywhere near Phoenix or the other cities mentioned here and you have a Christmas lights aficionado on your stocking stuffer list, I promise you will NOT go wrong with tickets to Zoo Lights. If they’ve never been, they’ll love you forever. And if they have been, they’ll think you’re the most thoughtful person on earth to treat them again. Even for people who aren’t all that into the whole Christmas lights display thing, it’s still a fun, fun way to celebrate the season!

    * * * * * * *

    And, in a bit of personal shameless self-promotion (after all, marketing is a significant piece of what I do in my real life!), here’s the ad I put on Craigslist … just in case you’ve read all the way to the end and happen to know a single guy in the Phoenix area who sounds like the one I’ve described. Stranger things have happened, I’m thinking…

    Zoo Lights, anyone? – 41 (Central Phoenix)


    Reply to: pers-977054391@craigslist.org
    Date: 2009-01-01, 11:52PM MST

    I’ve always wanted to go, but have never made it, for
    some reason. It’s open till January 11, so we still have a
    few days.

    OK, here are the goods . . .

    ME
    • 41 / single / near Central & Campbell
    • 5’2” / brown eyes / shoulder-length brunette hair
    • Work out 3x a week – but not a gym rat or Barbie
    • Self-employed as an editor/writer/marketer
    • Reader / moviegoer / movie critic
    • Love almost any kind of music
    • Creative and easy-going
    • Eclectic interests from baseball to sewing to yard
    sales to hiking
    • 2 dogs

    YOU
    • Roughly 35 to 50
    • Single / available / believe chivalry is alive and well
    • Greater Phoenix
    • Gainfully occupied
    • Smart / liberal / funny / open-minded
    • Spiritually inclined
    • Good conversationalist
    • Have a purpose/passion

    If this resonates with you, please drop a line. And if
    you have kids, feel free to bring them along. Happy
    New Year!

    Laura

    If you’ve ever wondered where the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas originated  . . .  those who follow the Christian tradition believe it came from the story of the Three Wise Men (magi) who brought gifts to the infant Christ child.

    The story of the Three Kings is told only in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 2, verses 1-12. I have reprinted the Good News Bible version below.

    Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east and we have come to worship him.”

    When King Herod heard about this, he was very upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

    “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea,” they answered. “For this is what the prophet wrote:

    Then they returned to their country by another road, since god had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.

    ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    you are  by no means the least of the leading cities of Judah;
    for from you will come a leader
    who will guide my people, Israel.'”

    So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know so that I, too, may go and worship him.”

    And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star that they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother, Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.

    Celebrated on January 6th, Little Christmas (more commonly known as the Epiphany) is the traditional end of the Christmas season, falling as it does on the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

    While it commemorates the visit and gifts of the Magi, the Christian feast day of the Epiphany celebrates the “shining forth” or revelation of God in human form in the person of Jesus. The three kings – Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar – are believed to have represented Europe, Arabia, and Africa. They allegedly arrived on horse, camel, and elephant, bringing respectively gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

    EPIPHANY IN OTHER CULTURES

    In some European cultures, the greenery put up at Christmas is taken down at Epiphany.

    In Ireland, Little Christmas is also referred to as Women’s Christmas because of the tradition of Irish men taking on all the household duties for the day and giving their spouses a day off. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, aunts, etc. Bars and restaurants usually have a majority female clientele on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers, and it closely resembles Mother’s Day in this respect.

    The Dutch and Flemish call this day Three Kings’ Day (Drie koningen). In the Netherlands and Belgium, children proceed in costume from house to house in groups of three while singing songs commemorating the occasion, and receiving a coin or some sweets at each door.

    Traditional King's Cake

    In France, people eat a version of a king cake, which has a trinket (usually a porcelain figurine of a king) or a bean hidden inside. The tradition is that the person who finds the trinket in their cake becomes “King for a Day.”

    In Portugal, the Epiphany is called day of the kings (dia los reis), during which the traditional king cake is baked and eaten.

    Like the tradition of Christmas stockings elsewhere in the world, in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Uruguay, children (and many adults) polish and leave their shoes ready for the Kings’ presents before they go to bed on the evening of January 5th. Sweet wine, fruit, milk, and snacks are left for the Kings and their camels.

    In Mexico, it is traditional for children to leave their shoes, along with a letter with toy requests for the Three Kings, near the family nativity scene or next to their beds. In some parts of northern Mexico, the shoes and letters are left under the Christmas tree. Sometimes, the shoes are filled with hay for the camels, so that the Kings will be generous with their gifts.

    In Louisiana, the Epiphany is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, during which it is customary to bake king cakes. The one who finds the doll (or bean) must provide the next king cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as “king cake season.”

    So the tree’s probably starting to wither and you may be packing away those ornaments and stockings. We’re already heading into January 4 … technically, the 10th Day of Christmas. You, of course, remember the old song:

    12-days

    On the twelfth day of Christmas,
    my true love gave to me…
    12 drummers drumming
    11 pipers piping
    10 lords a-leaping
    9 ladies dancing
    8 maids a-milking
    7 swans a-swimming
    6 geese a-laying
    5 golden rings
    4 calling birds
    3 French hens

    2 turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree!

    What you may not know is that a controversy is raging over the origin of the lyrics. One explanation that has been widely circulated via the Internet over the past few years purports that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written in England as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith, albeit in code, because Catholicism was a forbidden practice in England from 1558 till 1829.

    This theory has been widely debunked, even as believers continue to disseminate it as fact. Another theory posits that the song relates to the stocking and running of a country estate. As with many folk songs of distant origin, however, tracking down the original intent/meaning behind the lyrics may prove a futile task.

    Catholic Interpretation

    The tree itself is the symbol of the fall of the human race through the sin of Adam and Eve. It also is the symbol of humanity’s redemption by Jesus Christ on the tree of the Cross.

    The partridge in the pear tree is Christ Jesus upon the cross. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge because she would feign injury to decoy a predator away from her nestlings, even willing to die for them.

    The two turtle doves refer to the Old and New Testaments.

    The three French hens stand for faith, hope, and love – the three gifts of the Holy Spirit that abide (1 Corinthians 13).

    The four calling birds refer to the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.

    The five golden rings represent the first five books of the Bible, also called the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

    The six geese a-laying are the six days of it took for God to create the earth and populate it.

    The seven swans a-swimming refer to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

    The eight maids a-milking reminded God’s children of the eight Beatitudes, listed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth; blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied; blessed are the merciful, for they shall know mercy; blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God; blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God; and blessed are they who suffer persecution because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    The nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

    The ten lords a-leaping represents the Ten Commandments: (i) I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no other gods before me. (ii) You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. (iii) Keep holy the Sabbath day. (iv) Honor your father and your mother. (v) You shall not kill. (vi) You shall not commit adultery. (vii) You shall not steal. (viii) You shall not bear false witness. (ix) You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. (x) You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

    The eleven pipers piping refers to the 11 faithful apostles (Judas being excluded as the traitor who betrayed Jesus).

    The twelve drummers drumming were the 12 points of belief expressed in the Apostles’ Creed: belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, made man, crucified, died and arose on the third day, that he sits at the right hand of the father and will come again, the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

    Country Estate Interpretation

    The partridge in a pear tree refers to a plot of wooded land suitable for breeding game birds such as partridges and pheasants. It is also suggested that the gift of a pear tree would get a person started on their own orchard – if this gift were indeed given on 12 consecutive days, it would result in a moderate orchard and a foundation flock of partridges.

    The two turtle doves, while a classic symbol of love, are also a food item. Many big houses kept dovecotes to breed pigeons for their meat. A male and female turtle dove would certainly have started off someone’s dovecote. If the gift were given on 11 days, it would more than adequately stock the dovecote.

    The recipient’s poultry flock is augmented by three French hens, although hopefully one of the birds would actually be a cockerel!

    Although the four colley birds is frequently explained as four “coaly” (black) birds, it is just as likely to be calling birds, in keeping with the food theme. A “calling” pheasant (i.e. one trying to attract a mate) is tethered or caged and attracts other birds into the area. Gamekeepers put calling birds – not just pheasants – on land where they want to increase the grouse or pheasant population, e.g. moorland used for game shooting – hence “calling birds” could be a useful gift.

    Five gold rings is a debatable one. If taken literally, it might indicate a gift of wealth in the form of jewelry or gold coins. The rings might mean “round pieces,” e.g., coins. This would eventually amount to a small treasure chest of gold, possibly indicating a dowry. It is also suggested that the gold rings refer to yellow rounds of cheeses – not as silly as you might think when you consider that a later gift includes dairy cattle and maids to milk them.

    Six geese a-laying would provide not only eggs, but also meat.

    The seven swans a-swimming might sound picturesque today, but swans were eaten in the same manner as ducks or geese (and are very similar in flesh). Swans are also a symbol of the gentry (today most are possessions of the crown) and allude to the wealth of the estate – something already suggested if the gold rings are gold coins.

    The later gifts almost certainly allude, in part, to the staff needed for running the estate. Consider the eight maids a-milking: the maids need something to milk (i.e., cattle –unless you go for the bawdy interpretation of them as wet nurses, though they would likely then not be described as “maids”).

    The nine dancing ladies, 10 leaping lords, 11 pipers and 12 drummers suggest a celebratory feast, possibly the Christmas dinner itself, which would be accompanied by music. Pipes and drums were popular instrumental combinations.

    All in all, we have some of the basics for a largely self-sufficient country estate – a considerable staff for the household and grounds, a dairy, poultry, waterfowl, gamebirds, orchard, and possibly a large amount of money in the form of gold coin.

    According to a media release from Northern Illinois University, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was named the 2008 “Carol of the Year.” They report in their findings:

    Like many older carols, the origins of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are vague. Some say it was written in France, but Studwell is firmly in the camp of those who trace its roots to England. It was most likely written, he believes, during the period of history known as the Restoration, a brief interlude from about 1660 to 1730, between the Puritan Revolution and the rise of Methodism. It was a period of lightheartedness (relative to the eras it separated, anyway) which would have allowed for the rise of such a frivolous song, Studwell says.

    The acclaimed researcher puts little stock in the theory that the carol originated as a code developed by English Catholics to secretly teach their children catechism. The idea was first set forth by the Rev. Harold Stockert in 1969 and has been revived on the Internet in recent years.

    OK, so regardless of the origin, we can all agree that the quantities of livestock and servant-types bestowed by my true love in this song start to add up, once you get to the sixth day and beyond. Wayyyyy more than could ever be delivered in a stocking (unless it was in the form of a pop-up book).

    The question, then, becomes, “So, how many gifts IS that!?” Believe it or not, math geeks have figured our a formula to determine this number. The following excerpt explains just a bit of it:

    Good question, I’m glad you asked! Let’s start by thinking about how many gifts are given on each day. On the first day, the narrator receives one gift: a partridge in a pear tree. On the second day, the narrator receives two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree: 2 + 1 = 3 gifts in total. On the third day, there are 3 + 2 + 1 = 6 gifts, on the fourth day, 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 10 gifts, and so on. In general, it’s not hard to see that on the nth day, the narrator receives a number of gifts equal to the sum of all the integers from 1 to n. So the number of gifts the narrator gets on each day are 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, 55, 66, 78.

    These numbers are known as triangular numbers, due to the fact that they can be represented pictorially by dots arranged in triangles. Like this:

    Triangular numbers

    It shouldn’t be too hard to see that the number of dots in the nth triangle above corresponds to the sum of the integers from 1 through n (just count the number of dots in each row). Can you find a pattern and come up with a way to quickly figure out the nth triangular number, without having to add up all the numbers from 1 to n?

    Any way you slice it, though, it’s a LOT of people and animals.

    So there you have it … an attempt to explain the thoughts and intentions behind “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Enjoy the last few … and beware the steaming piles!