By Lynda Hollenbeck
I usually remain silent when I hear someone cluck "I'm all finished with my Christmas shopping."
It especially grates on my nerves when I hear this uttered about September or so. Some who say such seem to do so with an air of "I'm so perfect that I can't imagine doing it any other way."
To my ears, they speak with foreign tongue.
I have a friend who sometimes completes her shopping as early as July. It's amazing that we've had enough in common to remain friends for 35 years.
It took me a long time to acquire sufficient self-knowledge to understand why I'm a last-minute shopper, but I now know why I'm the way I am. Deadlines are my life; they have been for 40-something years. Why would anyone expect me to function in any other way about something like Christmas shopping?
If there's time to fill with other stuff before the big day looms, I will fill it with something else. It's a pattern pretty much set in stone.
And truth be told, I kind of enjoy it. It's fun to be out there amidst the hustle and bustle of others who have put off their shopping till the 11th hour. We talk the same language.
Though it doesn't lead to early action, I do ponder in advance what I'll be getting those nearest and dearest to me. And as one of these moments recently was consuming my thought processes, I got to thinking about one of my favorite holiday songs, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Now that's a Christmas list to end all others.
The most fun I ever had singing that song was as a member of Schola Cantorum, a select choral group at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. A couple of people in particular made the experience really fun and the fact that there were no bad singers in the group was a nice plus.
This wasn't an ensemble that included any off-key altos. I throw that in as homage to my late minister husband who often said (always privately) in reference to the choir of the church: "There's nothing quite like the faithfulness of an off-key alto."
In thinking about the song, though, I started wondering what it might cost to buy all those things for someone — if indeed you could find them at all. With a little Internet research, I learned that including seven swans (swimming or not), six geese and five golden rings to a roster of Christmas gifts costs more than it did a year ago.
And if you get all of 364 items repeated throughout "The Twelve Days of Christmas," you'll pay 6.1 percent more in 2012, according to the so-called Christmas Price Index that PNC Wealth Management updates annually.
It comes to a whopping $107,300.
Frugal shoppers may find some reasons for cheer, however. Six items mentioned in the song haven't gone up in price. This would be the eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing, ten lords-a-leaping, four calling birds, two turtle doves and the lone partridge. (Again with his wry sense of humor, Ed would listen to the song and comment, "That's an awful lot of birds.") The eight maids-a-milking reportedly still cost just $58 because the minimum wage hasn't risen.
Twelve drummers drumming ($2,775.50) and eleven pipers piping ($2,562) might also be considered relative bargains compared to seven swans, which will set you back $7,000. Nine ladies dancing will cost $6,294.03, according to this accounting. (I think I could beat that figure, however, by getting nine female dancers for considerably less from the Royal Players.)
And as for the increase in the cost of the birds, Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management, said the 2011 drought caused the prices of some to soar, partly because of corn and other feed costs.
"The geese were up 29.6 percent and swans were up 11 percent," Dunigan said, adding that none of the gifts in the song went down in price this year.
It would take $189.99 to buy a pear tree, representing an 11.8 percent jump from last year's $169.99. Five gold rings jumped 16.3 percent this year to $750, and three French hens are now $165 instead of $150.
The $15 partridge is reported to be the cheapest item and swans the most expensive at $1,000 each.
Last-minute shoppers who turn to the Internet will pay a bit more for the gifts, according to this source. Buying one set of the core items in each verse costs $24,431 in traditional stores this year, but $40,440 online. Part of the difference is the extra expense of shipping live birds, Dunigan said, adding that Internet costs rose 1.5 percent compared to last year.
PNC Financial Services Group Inc. checks jewelry stores, dance companies, pet stores and other sources to compile its list. Some of its sources this year were reported to be the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Ballet Company.
If I were to start early enough and really work at it, I think I could find most of the items named in the song, except one. Where would you find ten lords a'leaping?
I'd love to see a proprietor's reaction if I were to enter an area shop and request assistance in finding even one lord, leaping or standing still.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.