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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

The Holidays by the Numbers by Fran Joyce


While researching the holiday season, certain numbers kept jumping out at me.

There are eight days of Hanukkah and seven days of Kwanzaa.

During Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a child, our savior. Three wise men are guided by a single star shining brightly.

There are 24 days in an Advent calendar and who can forget the 12 days of Christmas and Santa’s eight reindeer?

I’ll be focusing on 7, 8 and 12.

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Kwanzaa is a holiday invented in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. African Americans connect with their heritage and culture. Kwanzaa is spelled with an additional "a" to make the name seven letters long. It's celebrated from December 26 through January 1, with each of the seven days focusing on one of seven core values, or Nguzo Saba. There are seven candles in the kinara, a candle holder used during Kwanzaa.

Seven candles are lighted over the seven days of Kwanzaa and are symbolic of Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of African heritage. The colors of the candles are black, red, and green. Black symbolizes African people, red reflects their struggle, and green symbolizes the future and the hope that comes from their struggle. These seven principles comprise Kawaida, the Swahili word for "common."

These principles are:

·         Unity (Umoja): striving for and maintaining unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

·         Self-Determination (Kujichagulia): defining one’s identity, and learning to stand up for oneself.

·         Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima): building and maintaining a community together and recognizing the needs/challenges of others while working to solve them together.

·         Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa): building, maintaining and supporting stores, shops, and other businesses in African American communities for the mutual benefit of people in those communities.

·         Purpose (Nia): creating a collective vocation dedicated to  building and developing communities in order to restore fellow African Americans to their traditional greatness.

·         Creativity (Kuumba): to always strive to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

·         Faith (Imani): to believe in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.


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Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication is a minor Jewish holiday celebrating the successful Maccabean rebellion against the Seleucid Empire. The celebration commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There was only enough oil to light the lamp for one night, but miraculously the oil lasted for eight nights until more oil could be made. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. It can occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

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Hanukkah is observed by lighting the candles of a menorah, a candelabrum with nine branches. One candle, the Shamash, is placed on a special branch above or below the others. It is used to light the other eight candles. Each night, an additional candle is lit with the Shamash.

All eight candles are lit together on the final night of Hanukkah. Small gifts are given for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.

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To many people, the 12 Days of Christmas is just a very long secular Christmas carol, but Twelvetide is a festival of the Christian faith celebrating the Nativity of Jesus. In most Western religions, Christmas is the first day of the 12 day period which runs from December 25-January 5 inclusive. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic religions place the 12 days between two feasts and celebrate Christmas on December 25 for the Julian calendar and January 7 for the Gregorian calendar.

Religious scholars and historians have several theories about the true meaning/origin of the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. According to one theory, the song is actually a children’s catechism in code because from 1558-1829, Roman Catholics in England were forbidden from openly practicing their faith. The Partridge is Jesus because a partridge will sacrifice its own life to protect its young and the pear tree represents the cross. The two turtle doves stand for the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Other religious scholars interpret the two turtledoves as a reminder of the sacrifice offered by Mary and Joseph when they dedicated Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:24). Three French hens represent the gifts of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13) while others believe they represent the three gifts of the Wise Men or even the actual three Wise Men. The four calling birds are believed to represent the four Gospels of the Bible-Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Five gold rings represent God's eternity. Six geese symbolize the six days of creation and seven swans represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids are the eight Beatitudes and nine ladies for the fruit of the Spirit. Ten lords represent the Ten Commandments; eleven pipers are Jesus’ eleven faithful disciples; and the twelve drummers stand for the articles of the Apostles' Creed.

Many religious scholars have questioned this assertion because there are no documents in existence to confirm these claims and this theory was not put forth until the 1990’s. Researchers from have deemed it false and contend The 12 Days of Christmas is nothing more than a secular song sung for fun during the holidays.

Another theory about the song contends it originated in France not England. The song is believed to have been composed for the children’s game of “Forfeits.” One child sings a verse and the next child must sing the second and first verse back without error. The game continues until all 12 verses have been sung and successfully repeated. Many historians agree with this assertion because the words to the song were published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme. The modern version of this song is an arrangement of a traditional folk melody by the English composer Frederic Austin in 1909.

If you total up the complete number of gifts given during the 12 day period, they equal 364 – one for everyday of the year except Christmas Day.

When I was in school my teachers presented a yearly math lesson based on the song. How many gifts? How many of each item? Which gifts would you get the most and least of? It was a lot of fun.

The Twelve Days of Christmas image: By Xavier Romero-Frias - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Twelve Days of Christmas image: By Xavier Romero-Frias - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In 1984 PNC Wealth Management began to calculate the cost of the 12 days of Christmas based on two indexes. The Christmas Price Index calculates the cost of the twelve days of gifts which really only calculates day 12.

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The True Cost index figures what the cost would be to give the gifts for the entire 12 days:

·         12 partridges - we also have to pay for the 12 pear trees

·         22 turtle doves – Do we just trust them not to fly around the house or do we have to buy cages for them?

·         30 French hens – Have you priced a chicken coup recently?

·         36 calling birds which were originally Colly birds (black birds) later they became mockingbirds – songbirds that eventually became the calling birds of the song – more cages?

·          40 gold rings – in keeping with the bird theme many historians believe the original song said “goldspinks” which is an old name for goldfinches and others have asserted the five gold rings represent the five golden bands around the neck of a ringed pheasant.

·          42 geese a laying – Are nests extra? This brings us to the sticky problem that geese are seasonal layers and typically only lay eggs from March to May, so good luck getting them to nest and coaxing any eggs from them in December.

·         42 Swans a swimming – Where will they swim? Do we need to buy kiddie pools?

·         40 maids a milking – What about the 40 cows/goats? Do we have to rent/buy the cows/goats and buckets to hold the milk.

·         36 ladies dancing

·         30 Lords a leaping

·         22 Pipers piping

·         12 Drummers drumming

For the cost of partridges, turtle doves, French hens, geese and swans, PNC consults the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. They price pear trees at a Philadelphia nursery. For the calling birds, PNC shops for canaries at PETCO. The price of five gold rings is supplied by Gordon’s Jewelers. The maids are considered unskilled labor and they receive minimum wage (there’s no mention of how many hours wages they receive). For the ladies dancing, PNC consults a Philadelphia dance studio and the Philadelphia Ballet Company for the Lords a leaping (there is no mention if the lords and ladies are paid more than commoners). The pipers and drummers are paid according to the standard rates received by musicians who are members of the Pennsylvania Musician’s Union.

The Christmas Price Index for 1984 was calculated at $12,623.10 and the True Cost Index totaled $61,318.94. For 2017, the CPI equaled $34,558.65 and TCI was $157,558.00.


Critics of both indexes complain PNC did not comparison shop to check for cheaper goods and they did not include the prices of the cows/goats, the cost of containers, any shipping or delivery fees. The indexes are “tongue in cheek” but from my days in math class I can tell you once you start crunching those numbers, there’s no going back!

Happy Holidays!



The December 2018 Quiz - The Twelve Cookies of Christmas

Holiday Reading for Children and Young Adults by Fran Joyce