What’s the True Cost of Christmas? $170,609.46


For 35 years, PNC Bank has calculated the prices of the 12 gifts from the classic carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The result is the Christmas Price Index, a unique and whimsical holiday tradition that makes learning about the economy fun. (PNC)

Use PNC and the SIFMA Foundation’s middle-school lesson plan to introduce students to basic financial literacy.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, or click here for a quick guide to conducting your classroom’s own Christmas Price Index!


  • The Christmas Price Index also includes a “core index.” What is a core index?
    • A core index describes an index that excludes the most expensive or volatile item or items in the index.
      • In financial markets, a volatile item is one whose price or value changes very significantly, and very quickly.
      • The Consumer Price Index always provides its entire index as well as an index “less food and energy”, excluding its most volatile items. Take a look at the latest CPI here.
      • In the Christmas Price Index, the core index excludes the most expensive and prone-to-change item, the swans.


Illustration by cmglee, Xavier Romero-Frias, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • So, what is the Christmas Price Index?
    • The cost of this song!
      • The Christmas Price Index is calculated by adding the cost of the gifts in the song.
        • 1 partridge in a pear tree + 2 turtle doves + 3 French hens … for a total of 78 items.
        • In 2018, the Christmas Price Index is $39,094.93, and the core Christmas Price Index (no swans!) is $25,969.93.
          That’s up about 1.6% from last year.


  • If the Christmas Price Index is $39,094.93, why does our headline say the cost of Christmas is a whopping $170,609.46?
    • Ah! The “True Cost of Christmas” is a variation of the Christmas Price Index that calculates the cumulative cost of all the gifts when you count each repetition in the song. For example:
      • If you receive a partridge in a pear tree for each of the 12 days of Christmas, you’ll have 12 partridges. (1 x 12)
      • If you receive five gold rings on the fifth through twelfth day of Christmas (that’s eight days), you’ll have 40 gold rings. (Nice) (5 x 8)
      • The “True Cost of Christmas” adds up to 364 gifts. It clocks in at $170,609.46 (about the same as last year.)


  • How is the Christmas Price Index calculated? Let’s take a look!
The cost of the partridge came from an unnamed national bird supplier. The cost of the pear tree came from Cinnaminson Nurseries in New Jersey.
Photograph by Arturo Nikolai, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0
The cost of the turtle dove came from an unnamed national bird supplier.
Photograph of a European turtle dove by Andrej Chudy, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0
The cost of the hens was averaged from several unnamed hatcheries.
Photograph of a blue partridge Brahma hen by Jim Richardson, National Geographic
The cost of the calling birds came from the cost of canaries at Petco.
Photograph of four calling birds (canaries) by muffinn, courtesy Flickr. CC-BY-2.0
The cost of the gold rings came from Gordon’s Jewelers.
Photograph of FIVE GOLD RINGS (from a Minoan treasure) by Einsamer Schütze, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0
The cost of the geese came from an unnamed waterfowl farm.
Photograph of geese by Matthieu Paley, National Geographic
The high price of the swans was averaged from several unnamed hatcheries.
Photograph of a mute swan by Craig Sands, National Geographic
The cost of the milkmaids was taken as the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour), as milking is considered unskilled labor.
Photograph of an Ethiopian milkmaid by Niels Van Iperen, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-4.0
The cost of ladies dancing was taken from the salaries of female dancers at Philandanco, the Philadelphia Dance Company.
Photograph of Sri Lankan dancers by Ami Vitale, National Geographic
The cost of the lords-a-leaping was calculated from the salaries of male dancers at the Pennsylvania Ballet.
Photograph of Kazakh dancers by Gerd Ludwig, National Geographic
The cost of the pipers is the rate from a Pennsylvania musicians union.
Photograph of Emirati pipers by Winfield Parks, National Geographic
The cost of the drummers is the rate from a Pennsylvania musicians union.
Photograph of a drum circle in Northern California by Michael Nichols, National Geographic


  • What do you think might be some criticisms about how the Christmas Price Index is calculated?
    • In most cases, the prices come from a single or small number of sellers. For instance, the salary of a dancer in Philadelphia may differ from the salary of a dancer in San Francisco, Anchorage, or Des Moines.
    • In some cases, only one part of the gift was calculated. For instance, the cost of a cow, sheep, or goat to milk is not included in the price of the “maids-a-milking.”
    • In some cases, the gift is not specific. For instance, the hens are not French and the ballet dancers are not actual lords.


  • Take a look at the 2018 Christmas Price Index. What were the most volatile items this year? (Hint: Not the swans!)
    • Increase: The price of six geese-a-laying jumped by more than 8%, to $390.
    • Decrease: The price of five gooooold rings sunk by more than 9%, to $750.


  • OK, about those swans. They are more than $3,000 more expensive than the next item on the list (the ballet dancers). Why in the world are the swans so expensive?
    • They’re high-maintenance birds:
      • Swan eggs tend to be more difficult to incubate than hen or duck eggs.
      • Trumpeter swans, the breed used in the Christmas Price Index, do not mate or breed until they are at least five years old, and some don’t breed until they are 20.
      • Swans require a tremendous amount of aquatic plants to feed on, meaning a healthy wetland habitat needs to be maintained.
      • Swans are less well-suited to walking on land than geese, so that healthy wetland habitat needs to have a fairly large pond or lake to support seven swans.


  • Do-It-Yourself!
    • Take a look at how the good folks at PNC calculated the national Christmas Price Index. Have your class do some outreach to calculate your local Christmas Price Index!!! Compare your most volatile items with the national standard. For instance:
      • Do you live in a rural area without local dance companies? Have one group calculate the cost of hiring an out-of-town company for a performance at a local venue—include costs for both renting the venue and travel and transportation for the dancers.
      • Do you live in an urban area without local dairy farms? Calculate the cost of a class field trip—include the cost of renting a bus and paying the farmer for his time and business, as well as the agricultural workers doing the milking.
      • Find the best prices for gold rings at your local jewelry stores—compare the prices of 14-karat gold (what the Christmas Price Index uses), 24-karat gold, and costume gold jewelry.



PNC: The PNC Christmas Price Index

PNC: The PNC Christmas Price Index Lesson

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: The Market Basket PowerPoint Lesson Plan


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