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'12 Days of Christmas' in Tune With Low Inflation Rate

December 20, 1986|MARTHA GROVES | Times Staff Writer

We can't supply the accompaniment, but please hum along anyway.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge ($5) in a pear tree ($14.95). On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves ($40) and a . . .

Get the idea?

If shopping for socks and sweaters has you in a daze, consider how the love-struck gift giver of the traditional ditty "12 Days of Christmas" would feel when faced with today's prices for all those delectable gifts--milking maids, leaping lords and all.

Actually, thanks to a mercifully low inflation rate, he would scarcely notice a change this year from last--a scant 0.25% increase for a total cost of $38,984.70, according to Hugh Gee, a San Francisco investment adviser who tracks the Christmas index each year.

Except for the three "French" hens (Gee settled for the generic American kind at $2.75, up 38% from last year, figuring he could teach them to "cluck with a French accent"), buying fowl proved only slightly more expensive than last year. For the partridge and a pear sapling, two turtle doves, three Franco-American hens, four calling birds, six geese (eggs included) and seven swans a-swimming in a 15-by-30-foot pool, chalk up a grand total of $25,710.20.

Since 14-karat gold rings seemed a little paltry, Gee decided to consider the cost of five ounces of gold, based on a recent quote from Deak-Perera, the currency trader; the total of $1,915.50 was up 19% from last year. Luckily for our paramour, but not so good for cattle ranchers, the value of the dairy cows milked by the eight maids has been skimmed by 23% in the last year. Total for the experienced milking maids, from Aunt Annie's domestic service in Oakland, and their cows: $6,384.

Nine ladies doing a belly dance will run you $675, unchanged. Ten fellows dressed as lords and leaping about for an hour or so: $2,000, also unchanged. And a bright note: Music by 11 pipers ($1,100) and 12 drummers ($1,200) comes 14% cheaper. (The verses might seem a little out of whack with some renditions of the song, but you get the idea.)

Now, if the lavish lover wants to be ultra-generous, he could duplicate the gifts as in the song's many refrains, for an awesome total of $219,033.90, up 2%. For bargain-minded Southern California shoppers, these are obviously not items to be found at half-price at one-day department store sales.

But keep this in mind: Had Gee cleaved to a version of the song published in 1842 by J. O. Helliwell, he could have shaved quite a bit off the tab. Instead of shelling out $1,592 for the four grahlias, a type of toucan that Gee uses for the "calling" birds, he could have bought the common blackbird. The song actually calls for "colly" birds. In British dialect, colly means soot or grime.

And that reminds us of the cheapest gift of all: a lump of coal.

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