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Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree?

Seven Swans a'Swimming, part of a charming set by Simply Shar?n via Flickr

The Holiday Season brings with it a seemingly endless train of songs, all of which are so beaten into our heads that I feel like I’m chewing rubber bands. Exactly how many verses are there to Good King Wenceslas, or the First Noel, anyway? Not to mention the commercialized songs, the horrible drummer boy, the nasty reindeer, the irritating Santa, and popped-up orchestrations of ancient carols. I’m sure we all have our least favorites, but I think we can agree that the Partridge in a Pear Tree song is close to the top of any list.

I’m not the only one who noticed that the song involves a fair number of swimming swans, drummers drumming and golden rings. I’ve often wondered what one would do with 12 partridges and 12 pear trees. Brian Sibley did the arithmetic here, and wrote thank you notes as well. Here’s the first:

My very dearest Algy,

How can I begin to thank you for your charming Christmas gift? What luxury! My very own pear tree, with that dear little pheasant in it – or is it supposed to be a partridge? You really are a foolish boy! Actually, the birdie isn’t wildly attractive, but the pear tree should be lovely – when pears are in season again.

Thank you, my darling.

All my love – forever.

Your ownest affectionate,


And here is the response to the swimming swans:

Dear Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

I have just succeeded in accommodating your seven swans a-swimming in my bath – which was no mean achievement when one considers the number of pear trees on the landing! Regrettably, the geese got to the rings before I could, so that’s probably the last we’ve seen of them – would I could say the same for the geese! I must now ask you to desist from sending me any more of these well-intentioned but slightly impracticable gifts. Cynthia Bracegirdle

PS: I hadn’t realised just how messy moulting partridges can be, or how badly they seem to get on in captivity with other birds.

It really doesn’t turn out well.

On the other hand, there are a number of beautiful songs that haven’t been ruined by repetition of retailers. I Wonder As I Wander is one of my favorites, sung a capella by Maureen Hegarty. It combines awe with gratitude for the Christmas Gift, and reminds me at a deep level of the Christmas of my youth.

Photo by Simply Shar?n under Creative Commons license.

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