When one thinks of the traditional classic Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, one naturally thinks of… the economics department of the PNC Financial Services Group. This venerable institution, which traces its roots back to the mid-19th century, is home to the Christmas Price Index. Something of a running gag since 1984, The Christmas Price Index is based on the total cost of purchasing every item mentioned in the song Twelve Days of Christmas. Interestingly, it does correlate to certain aspects of the Consumer Price Index and offers insight into year-to-year holiday trends.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is an old carol which can be traced as far back as the late 1800s in England where the original group is still singing it. It refers to the period beginning on Christmas Day, or the day after, through the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem. A cumulative song which describes the gifts received by an anonymous recipient from his/her true love, it involves the acquisition of pear trees, pet birds, assorted labor and a pile of gold rings. Some have tried to interpret the meaning of the numbers (eg Four Calling Birds = Four Gospels), while others have realized that the numbers simply represent the ability to count from one to twelve.
In 1984, a bunch of financial service employees at PNC Bank clearly had too much time on their hands and conceived of the Christmas Price Index using the Twelve Days of Christmas as a baseline: Pear Trees (priced by a Philadelphia nursery); Birds (priced by the Cincinatti Zoo, the National Aviary and Petco); Gold Rings (priced by Gordon Jewelers); Slave Labor (priced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Philadelphia Ballet and Pennsylvania Musicians Museum). Sometimes the Swans are left off the list, because that would just be unrealistic.
As of 2010, the Christmas Price Index was up to $23,439 (or $96,824 using a cumulative accounting system), just about double its starting point in 1984. If you wish to challenge the methodology or results, please feel free to visit the PNC World Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ask for the company’s chief economist. He’ll be glad to take time out of his busy schedule to explain it to you. No visitor information was available as of the time of this writing. Web: www.pncmc.com (official website of the Christmas Price Index).