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December 19, 2019 17 mins

Researcher Gabe joins Will and Mango in the studio to talk about why his family likes to Christmas carol so slowly. (They take over a week to to sing one song!) Plus, the crew discusses bird boxes, conspiracy theories and whether 12 days of gift giving from your true love is just a little excessive. (It is.) 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to part Time Genius, the production of I Heart Radio.
I Guess what will What's that man? Go? So you
know how in the twelve Days of Christmas, like half
of the gifts are just a bunch of random birds.
It's kind of crazy. Actually, You've got swan, you got geese,
you've got turtle, doves, the partridge. The whole song is

like lousy with birds, yeah, or foul with foul if
you want to go a full dad joke. But uh,
it makes you wonder what the true love and this
song is thinking right, like like what are you supposed
to do with all this menagerie of birds? So we
did some digging this week and it turns out the
answer is you eat them, or at least that's the
prevailing theory, because most of the birds of the song

were served at holiday feasts in sixteenth century Europe. I've
actually not thought about that. So so this means the
song is basically just a menu, right pretty much. And
if you're the kind of person who's listening to this
and your mouth is watering and you're wishing you could
recreate this bird centric feast in your own home, well
you are in luck because there's a company in England
named Hell Farm and it offers something called the twelve

bird True Love Roast. I've actually got the order page
pulled up here and I want you to see this. Well, uh,
that is something else. I mean, it's kind of like
the Urn Ducan on steroids, is the only way I
could describe it. Yeah. The company calls it a twelve
bird roast because it's made with twelve different kinds of birds,
one for each day of Christmas. But they didn't stop

at just one of each kind because they're actually forty
eight birds crammed into this thing. Eight different types of
stuffing as well, but forty eight birds, Lord, this thing
must be enormous. Yeah. And according to the website, the
True Love Roast weighs about fifty five pounds and will
feed about a hundred and twenty five but it will

cost you. It's with a dish, so pretty steep. But
on the bright side, delivery is free and each roast
comes in its own large wicker hamper, fully prepared and
ready to cook. I like the they throw in the
hamper to really seal the deal, you know, in case
you were on the fence about spending a thousand dollars
on a ton of bird meat. Now you know it's
it's worth it. Well. I I like the fact because

it's such a clear example of just how bizarre the
song really is. I mean, I've probably heard it like
a hundred times or more in my life, right, but
it never gets any less strange. And I still don't
really know anything about this song. And after asking around
this week, I realized I'm not the only one who
feels this way. So with the holidays upon us, I
thought we could do our part by taking a closer

look and then sharing what we consider to be the
nine weirdest facts about the twelve Days of Christmas. In
fact one is that the song is actually a giant menu,
which means we've got eight more to go. Let's dive in.

Y Hey, their podcast listeners, Welcome to Part Time Genius.
I'm Will Pearson, and as always I'm joined by my
good friend Manes Ticketer and on the other side of
the soundproof glass chowing down on what he claims are

three French hens. I really can't fact check this one,
that easily. That's our friend and producer Lull. He does
look like he's really enjoying it. He is kind of
giving the game away by drinking out of that Popeye's cup.
But also joining us today is our researcher pal, Gabe Bluesier.
It's been a little while, Gabe. Thanks for coming on. Yeah,
of course, thanks for having me. It's nice to be back. Yeah,
we brought Gabe out of exile, but he's actually the

one who suggested we zero in on this twelve Days
of Christmas theme for today's show. Gave what was your
favorite one as a kid? Actually it was this one,
like my family to this thing where we would sing
the gifts like one day at a time, So we'd
start on December fourteen, singing just the first line the
partridge part uh, and then we just keep on one

day at a time until Christmas, when we would finally
try to get through the whole thing. And I mean
emphasis on the try part, like we didn't always make it.
But that is an amazing family tradition. I love that
practicing the song and pieces does seem like a good
way to actually remember that song. But I think he
might be doing it slightly wrong game, to be honest
with you, I like that you just heard about my

family tradition and already you have improvements for it. That's
something I'm here to help, and it it did line
up with the fact that I already had on deck,
because one thing I always wondered is when exactly are
the twelve Days of Christmas? Like, is that even a
real thing? And it turns out it is a real thing.
But counterintuitively, the twelve days don't end on Christmas Day.

They actually begin on Christmas Day, or at least that's
how it works in some forms of Western Christianity, including Catholicism.
So according to tradition, the twelve day span is meant
to represent the period of time between the birth of
Christ and the day that the Three Wise Men brought
him gifts. So if anybody out there really wants to
recreate the song or seeing it on the appropriate nights,

you would start on December and you would end on
January five, or sometimes known as the Twelfth Night. Oh wow,
So thirty years of family tradition straight down the drain.
But I'm actually glad we're getting into some of the
history of this song that that sets things up nicely
from my first fact, which is that the origin of

the song itself is still a big mystery, Like The
earliest written version was a poem in a book of
nursery rhymes called Mirth Without Mischief, and the book was
published in England in seventeen eighty. But historians believe the
Twelve Days poem is a lot older than that, and
it may have originally come from France. But even though

we don't know the exact origin of the song, there
are a few theories. The best one is that it
started as a memory game that kids would play during
those twelve night celebrations you mentioned, And basically kids would
get they're in a circle, and they'd go around reciting
the poem one verse at a time, much like my
family did, until someone made a mistake and the player

who messed up would be out of the game, and
the last one standing was the winner. So I I
did notice that you called it a poem just now,
and you said kids would recite it, not sing it.
So was the Twelve Days of Christmas actually written um?
Not as a song originally? Yeah, that's right. It actually
wasn't set to music until the early twentieth century, so
quite a while. And until then it was just a

kind of poem called a cumulative verse. So another example
would be that nursery rhyme there was an old lady
who swallowed a fly. You know, she keeps swallowing one
thing to swallow the other. And pretty much any poem
or chant where you use pattern verses like that to
sort of build out a narrative that's a cumulative verse.
Well you know, you know. My first fact was meant

to do some myth busting. So one thing I've always heard,
especially online, is that the twelve Days of Christmas is
actually this coded guide to the Catholic faith. So the
two turtle drives are are really the Old and New Testaments,
the six Gees of Laying or the six Days of
Creation and so on. The idea of this kind of
stems from the fact that from the sixteenth to nineteenth century,
being a Catholic was a crime in Protestant England. So

according to legend, Catholic kids would sing the song as
a way to learn about and profess their forbidden faith
while still kind of keeping it a secret from authorities.
As alluded to earlier, none of this is true that
there are actually a couple key points that poke holes
in this theory. For starters, there's no reference to the
secret history prior to the early ninety nineties, which suggests
that the whole thing is just an Internet rumor that

that got out of hand. But what's more damning is
that none of the alleged hidden meanings make that much sense. Like,
Protestants believe in all the same concepts that the gifts
are supposed to represent, So the idea of Catholics having
to kind of like hide this or disguise these concepts
doesn't really hold that much water. Yeah, that's interesting, all right, Well,
here's a quick one. So we've already discussed how this
song reads like a very bird heavy menu, but there's

at least one item miss sing from the song that
definitely would have been on the table in medieval Europe,
and that is mince pie, made from a hearty mix
of finely chopped beef, dried fruit, nuts, and spices. These
mince pies, or mince meat pies, they became a Christmas
staple in Europe. The pies were traditionally baked in the
shape of Jesus's manger, which I'd actually never heard until

I was looking into this this week, and a little
figure of the baby Jesus would be placed on top
of each one, and they must have made a ton
of these two because mince pies were actually eaten on
each of the twelve days of Christmas. I can't say
why the popular pies didn't make it into the song,
but it's probably because a mince pie in a pear
tree just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

I don't know how you guys feel. Yeah, that's somehow
even less romantic than what we got, Like that is
a lot of mince pie. But speaking of which, you
know those five golden rings, like, of course one of
the few, it's one of the few gifts in the
song that isn't a bird, right, Well, surprise, the rings
are in fact also birds. According to bird expert Mike Bergen,

the lyric is not a reference to jewelry, but to
ring necked pheasants. So as the name implies those birds,
they have bands of yellowish feathers that kind of wrap
around their necks. Hence the golden rings, which means that
the fifth day of Christmas doesn't actually bring this grand
romantic gift so much as it does more birds to eat.

It's so much less romantic. The five golden rings line
always reminds me of that Eddie Izard like part in
his comedy routine where he points out how people just
go crazy for that one that but and then they
go back to forgetting how the rest of the song goes.
But you know, we've got three facts left to go.
Let's take a quick break and then we'll get back
to it. Welcome back to part time Genius. We're talking

about the alarming implications of the twelve Days of Christmas.
All right, Mago, it was your turn when we left off,
So what do you got for us next? So I've
got another lyrical misnomer that everyone seems to fall for. First,
I want to acknowledge that there are lots of different
versions of this song, and that's before you even get
to the parody version. So in terms of different takes,
like some variants include eleven ships of sailing instead of

eleven pipers piping, or nine bulls of roaring instead of
nine ladies dancing. But one gift that's present in nearly
every version of the song is the one for the
fourth day for calling birds, And that seems like a
kind of a sad one once you realize that the
birds aren't intended as decorations or pets. But as dinner,
as we've mentioned before, and it's odd because you normally

wouldn't eat a songbird, right, But the original line apparently
wasn't for calling birds. It was four collie birds CEO
L l i E. It's an archaic word meaning grimy
or or black as suit. And in reality the gift
isn't for beautiful songbirds, but it's for blackbirds right to
be baked into a pie. That is a pretty different

I think, A Well, there's been a lot of talk
about bird eating today, and so it falls on me
to to put all of that binging in perspective. I think. So,
say you want to embark on your own twelve Days
of Christmas feast, but you don't have a thousand bucks
lying around for a true love roast. It will be
a lot more work and some weird looks from your butcher,
but you could definitely put together a similar spread for

a whole lot less money. And the amazing part is
if you stick to a single serving of each dish
and you keep the recipe simple, you actually wouldn't come
out too bad nutritionally speaking. So take the first day,
for example, a serving of roasted partridge has only about
two d or so calories a pair is a mere
nineties six calories. In fact, if you added up modern

equivalents for each of the first seven days of the song,
including pheasant for the fifth day, you only have a
about twenty hundred calories. So you could even eat all
twelve dishes in the same day if you want to.
And so when you factor in all the activities mentioned
for the last five days of the song, you can
actually get that count down even lower. So is that

what the song is supposed to be? Like? It's seven
days of stuffing your face and then five days of
desperately trying to work the way on. I mean, that's
kind of what happens in real life, but that that's
one popular interpretation that the whole thing is about one
big long feast and all the activities going on during it.
In fact, there's an article in The Atlantic that really

leans into this theory. So the author actually breaks down
the average number of calories you'd burn during thirty minutes
of each activity. So, for instance, milking a cow for
half an hour would burn about a hundred calories, dancing
would shave off closer to two hundred than on the
other end of the spectrum, you've got the flute playing,
which I don't know, this may surprise you, that would
actually only burn a paltry six eight calories. It seems

like doing it very Yeah, it feels like this very
intense activity. But you know, if you subtract all those
energy expenditures from the twelve course total that we were
talking about, you'd wind up with a little over two
thousand calories. And while that's still a lot for one meal,
it's way better than the forty calories that would make

up the average Thanksgiving dinner. Yeah, that's that's probably closer
to what you're looking at for a serving of that
twelve bird roast you guys were talking about. It's off
forty April, I think, excuse me. And actually that fits
in pretty well with my last fact, which is about
the ridiculous scale of gift giving that goes on in
this song. I mean, because at first you think, okay,

twelve days, twelve gifts. That's you know, that's a lavish
number of presents. But it's not unheard of, right, It's
it's not worrisome yet. It could this could still be,
you know, a semi normal situation. But then you remember
the amount increases with the gifts, right, two turtle doves,
three french head, all the way up to twelve. So
now you're at seventy eight gifts, which is too many.

It is just way and then it hits you, right,
this is a cumulative song, like I was saying, So
you don't just get the new gift of the day,
you also get all the gifts from all the previous
days all over, which means that the total number of
gifts in the twelve days of Christmas is a whopping
three hundred and sixty four. And and I have to add,

if you consider the pear trees as separate gifts from
the partridges, which really you should, you add another twelve
onto that, so it's really three seventy six. That is insane,
especially when you remember that a large portion of those
gifts they're live birds exactly. And the most troubling part
is that somebody spent a ton of money on those
gifts on those birds, like all those live performers. They

were booked from multiple full days. That can't be cheap.
And this is kind of a bonus fact, I admit,
but there's actually a group of economists who crunched the
numbers every year to find out just how much this
full suite of gifts would cost. It's called the Christmas
Price Index, and it's released by P and C Wealth Management.

For it says, these three hundred plus gifts, it would
set you back a hundred and fourteen thousand, six hundred
fifty one dollars and eighteen cents. And because I know
you're wondering the most expensive item on that list, it's
surprisingly the seven swansa swimming Apparently swans go for a

little over a thousand bucks apiece. Wow. And and that's
even before you have to like find a lake for them.
I was actually going to say, like the landscaping fees
for this orchard of pear trees that you suddenly own it,
it's pretty expensive. Yeah, for as long as the song
as it is, like, there's a lot that goes unsaid. Yeah,
I mean that's true, but it's also kind of what
I like about it. I mean, the lyrics are so specific,

and the more time goes by, the weirder and more
out of place they seem to us, and yet we
keep right on singing them anyways. It is endearing. But
because of that wealth index fact and because this episode
was your idea. I really think you deserve the trophy
this week, Gave Yeah, And to go along with it,
please accept this flock of wild birds that we caught
this week, Gabe, you have earned them. Congratulations. Thank you guys.

That is just what my apartment's missing. Yeah all right,
well that's gonna do it for today's Part Time Genius.
It's so great to have you back on the program, Gave.
If you like our little show out there, please be
sure to subscribe with the I heart Radio app, Apple podcasts,
or wherever you go to hear weird facts and maybe
leave us a rating or review that would really make
our year. From Will, Gave, Little and Me, thank you

so much for listening, Have a wonderful holiday, and we'll
see you in the new year. Part Time Genius is
a production of I heart Rate. For more podcasts from

my heart Radio, visit the I heart Radio app, Apple
podcast or wherever you listen to your favorite show. H

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