The Twelve Days – All Twelve

And on the Twelfth Day (05 January) — A day of drumming!

Cynthia Yeh, Principal Percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, announcing the end of the world on the bass drums in a performance of the “Dies Irae” section from Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem”.

Striking the mighty hammer-blows in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.

Jazz percussionist Max Roach as “Max”, leader of the house band at Billy Pastor’s Café in the film “Carmen Jones”. The band inserts a jazz break and drum solo into Pearl Bailey’s musical number “Beat Out Dat Rhythm On A Drum”, Oscar Hammerstein’s adaptation of the Act II Gypsy Dance “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” from Bizet’s “Carmen”.

Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker (19 August 1939 – 6 October 2019) was an English drummer and a co-founder of the rock band Cream.

Maureen “Moe” Tucker of the Velvet Underground. From the performance of “Heroin” in the video of the MCMXCIII reunion concert.

Watch VU MCMXCIII Heroin at YouTube . And watch Moe Tucker create the overwhelming pacing.

Timpanist Wieland Welzel of the Berliner Philharmoniker finishes off the Symphony No. 5 of Dmitri Shostakovich
Still at the Berliner Philharmoniker, it takes *two* timpanists at eight kettles to finish off the 112 minute performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor, at a concert 29 Feb 2020 under batonless direction of wunderkind Lorenzo Viotti.

For those into timpani, here is Part 1 of 3 of a tutorial on changing and tuning TIMpani heads, by TIM Genis of the Boston Symphony. A little inTIMidating as he starts off with saying it is simple, and showing the ten products you will need. Fun as this is, it isn’t the one I was looking for — let me know if you find one about the excitement of receiving the delivery of the new “skins” and the start of the installation, from a big-name orchestra percussion section.

Djembe circle class

Djembe class recital, Old Town School of Folk Music 2013. This one brings ten drummers!

Third Coast Percussion — they do have drums, just not too evident in this picture!

Drumline is much more than drums in a line!

And how could “Little Drummer Girl” have been an instantly comprehended title had there not been the song “Little Drummer Boy”.

But maybe not everybody loves that boy:

And from the Eleventh Day

And a bonus on the plumber == piper theme!

And from the Tenth Day

And from the Ninth Day

Detail of Feiffer’s “Dance to Spring”

Ist das die richtige Anzahl tanzender Damen? NEIN!

And from the Eighth Day

And from the Seventh Day

And you can have a listen!

And from the Sixth Day

And a bonus of six more geese laying — or at least being encouraged to do so.

And from the Fifth Day

And from the Fourth Day

And from the Third Day

Sarah Willis and other members of the horn section of the Berliner Philharmoniker

And from the Second Day

And still around from the First Day

Spacer with multicolor segments

Credits, Addenda, and complete series

Comics and other images were contributed by Rob S., Andréa, Kilby, and other readers.
The Liz Climo panel for Six Geese was picked up from a discussion on Arnold Zwicky’s blog, which takes an interest in analyzing the language of comics.

Twelve-days series from familiar comics

“Mother Goose and Grimm” has more than once run thru the twelve days, with different levels of punning. Usually they run these *before* Christmas Day, as a sort of countdown; and skip weekends. (We at CIDU have followed the traditional pattern of starting on Christmas Day and counting forwards until 06 January.) The 2012 series of MG&G, for interest, started with the first day on Wednesday, 12 December 2012, here. The “two hurtled gloves” was used here in draft (until the tee-shirt with the hybrids showed up) and was from the 2011 series, which started on Monday, 19 December 2011, with a “Partridge Family” joke., and did not go on for all twelve.

“Off the Mark” similarly had full or partial series around 2002, 2003, and a one-shot in 2004. These also took a pre-Christmas Day quasi-countdown approach. This strip also gives a nice example of a one-shot panel or strip referencing several of the Twelve Days gifts via some gag like the store returns window seen here — with variations seen pretty often. Our 11 plumbers plumbing came from one of these OTM series. This very recent “Argyle Sweater” also puts a long (but not total!) list of the items into one transaction, in this case a purchase rather than returns (and for eating!).

“New Adventures of Queen Victoria” has had a series, with jokes about the accumulation of gifts. (As faithful reader Deety let us know, back on the First Day!😀 ) It seems to be used for reruns; the 2020 version started with the First Day just on 21 December. A GoComics comment for the Second Day entry answers one of the usual math questions (below) and nicely shows their work for each kind of gift. The 2006 run may have been the original (the dates in the drawings match the publication dates), but it runs for a five-weekdays-plus-Saturday span only, jumping from a nervous Fifth Day to a sudden escape with a Twelfth Day intervention.

After completion of this thread on 05 January, we will make a new post, as a postscript, to sample or present some of those partial or full twelve-day series from familiar comics.

Other kinds of presentation, and Math

The featured image at the top of the post puts all twelve days together in a grid of boxes, with a representative for each kind of gift in the day’s box. That one is straightforwardly traditional and plain representations, but there are good examples of satiric or political-editorial intent in that format, such as this Ted Rall. After completion of this thread on 05 January, we will make a new post, as a postscript, to present a few of these 12-icon layouts.

For a detailed account of the history of the song and variations in the gifts accumulated in the lyrics, see the Wikipedia article. After completion of this thread on 05 January, we will make a new post, as a postscript, to present the table of historical lyric variations from that Wikipedia article.

Maybe someone can find and link the math-problem treatment of summing the total number of each kind of gift, on the assumption that the gifts mentioned in different “daily” run-thrus do accumulate — so that, for example there are 5 gold rings for day 5, another 5 gold rings for day 6, etc., for a total of 40. Which item has the highest total count? Which the lowest? What is the total of gifts for all kinds? Do the partridge and its pear tree count separately? If you don’t care to do the work yourself right now, here is how a goComics commenter summarized it for Queen Victoria readers. Now tell us, what is that series {12, 22, 30, 36, 40, 42, 42, 40, 36, 30, 22, 12} related to? It’s not quite a binomial expansion, or a diagonal of Pascal’s triangle …
Note from Second Day: There is a nice exposition from CIDU faithful reader Woozy on some math questions for the Twelve Days!.

And here is an interesting graphic account of some of the numbering questions:

Parodies, stories, and radio plays

Also there is an epistolary story parody similarly based in an assumption of accumulating quantities, in which the fair lady receiving the gifts gets increasingly annoyed in each letter, up to the cease-and-desist order. Please do find and link!
Update: Many thanks to faithful reader Shrug for finding and sharing this publication of a transcript exactly that story! And in turn, the collector who runs that blog has provided a link to an MP3 audio file of what seems to be the original radio presentation of this story.
Further: Actually, it is listed on the Wikipedia article in the Parodies and Other Versions section. If only we had been reading closer, sooner.

(And how charming that the lady in the skit turns out to be named Cynthia – pleasing for a reason you will see on Twelfth Day!)

The Music

We have been concentrating on the lyrics so intently, we mustn’t lose sight of the music itself!

(Answers start around 6:30)

(Top graphic credit: Xavier Romero-Frias, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Little Drummer Boy phono single cover art: for usage see


  1. here was a time in my fussy-eater youth when the only way to get me to eat green beans was from a packet of frozen Bird’s Eye “French-cut Green Beans with Slivered Almonds” or similarly prepared, and never ever under the name “string beans”.

  2. No worries, Brian. You got a few of us to go look up something interesting!

    I had a vague memory of the Sub-Genius camp being associated with Discordia. Wikipedia says both parties deny an actual connection, but there are similarities. When you (was it you or another?) first commented to point out Bob in the Queen Victoria strip, I think I asked about similarity to FSM, but was thinking of and forgot to say Discordia. The reason I am harping on their name is that there is a recently popular app/site/program/service called Discord, but it seems entirely above ground.

  3. Normally we would be tonight (and most nights in late December other than Christmas Eve/Night) at the local restoration village as our 18th selves. While I cannot carry a tune in a bucket or even a suitcase, many of members of our reenactment sing fairly to very well and other members of the unit play music – of course this year – not so much.

    In the 18th century all 12 days of Christmas were celebrated. December 25 was a holy day – spent in church, but then with December 26 the 12 days of merriment would start. Different neighbors would be giving parties nightly. Family would come to visit (and I as “Anne” explains to people – family does not come to visit for the afternoon or evening or day, but for days, especially if they are not living in the immediate community. It was common for weddings to take place during the 12 days of Christmas – George and Martha Washington and Thomas and Martha Jefferson both had their weddings during the 12 days of Christmas (not the same year or day).

    For the evenings we are doing this event after Christmas (often it starts before Christmas) we use the matching day to describe the party being attended – both by us and all of the visitors passing through (which can be a couple of thousand or more per night) so, today, December 28, it would be a third night party. For evenings before Christmas we talk about the customs of Christmas, but since the family whose home we are in were Dutch and Sinter Klaus items are left out, we are visiting them as they wanted to share their customs of same with us.

    The past several years the Village has been having a scavenger hunt (primarily for the children coming through, but adults welcome to try to find the items) in which each of the houses which are open for the event has something related to one of the 12 days of Christmas. Last year we had a square of fabric printed with the 7 geese. I had put it on the table with the Sinter Klaus related items next to me. I arranged the other items so the center of panel with the geese showed rather obviously (or so I thought) in the center of the items they would be shown when they came over. I would hear a family talking about it and call them over. Some times I would drop and pick up and drop again a number of times a plastic orange on the fabric or stand and basically point at it and they still could not find it! then I had several groups who came through who saw it, counted the swans and walk away upset as they apparently did not know the difference between swans and geese and there were too many geese for it to be part of the game!

    Our unit “music master” (as his military title) studies period music. Originally the song was the 7 days of Christmas and all of the gifts were birds – if you check, all of the birds fall in the first 7 days of the song – the other days and the non- bird gifts were added some time after the original version – but long before the 1770s.

    Robert and I heard a Christmas song from the period while at Colonial Williamsburg called “There was a pig went out to dig” and mentioned it to the music master and it is one of the most popular song he plays and the members sing. If anyone cares to hear it – a quick search online of the title brings up several versions.

  4. Quick oops – forgot to mention -while today the 5 golden rings are thought of and portrayed as gold jewelry rings, they were originally intended to be 5 birds which were golden ring pheasants.

  5. Yes, Mitch, I do remember Transcendental Meditation — or at least the mania for it — but I never really grokked on what it was all about. It really doesn’t matter to me what Brian was on about, with “an obvious Pink” and “J. R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs,” but just got my curiosity up.

  6. BTW, for Woozy or others who may want to research and suggest entries for the song, a reminder that we still need comics or images for Seven (swans, swimming) and Eight (maids, milking).

  7. Also, Brian, don’t take Boise Ed’s capital letters as raised voice, that’s just the way the timestamp appears on the page. I do hope the maintainers get their Xmas wish and we can have numbered comments in a thread again. That would allow identifying a particular comment you are replying to without extensive quoting or using the odd-looking timestamps.

  8. For swans there’s this:

    Although I don’t really get it.

    There’s these which are all not quite but they are about swans.

    And a google on “Swans Comic Strips” in google images ( will come up with a lot of Superman Illustrations. Without googling, anyone want to guess why Superman showed up so much.

  9. Geeze, Woozy, I don’t mean this to sound mean, but you might want to get some advice about how one of the ways “they” track you is by personalizing URLs. And then when you go to share a URL from a search or something like that, it’s a good idea, it’s good practice, to manually trim it down to the minimal valid part that will get your readers to the result.

    In your case, nobody needs to use a URL that informs the site that the browser is Firefox, for example. I will test if it still works when trimmed down to . Well not quite — I had to manually switch into Images in google. But do you see my point?

    Golly, all day long you can see people posting URLs with things like “source=email” and the name of a promotional campaign. Even an occasional account name! Clean it up, folks!

  10. Woozy, thanks for the effort.
    Although I don’t really get it. If you mean the first one, the one where the image did embed here, in the bottom panel the swans’s neck and body forms spell out a message: “Nobody [heart] you”. Maybe not what he (or we) was expecting from this pastoral scene!

  11. ” Without googling, anyone want to guess why Superman showed up so much.”

    I don’t need to google it, I said curtly.

  12. I don’t get the rings cartoon.

    It’s a fine choice for the 5 rings but as a cartoon… I don’t.


    “but you might want to get some advice about how one of the ways “they” track you is by personalizing URLs”

    Meh…. Why should I care? Nobody’s interested in me. If the death squads came for me in the middle of the night I’d make them a cup of tea and be grateful for the attention.


    “I don’t need to google it, I said curtly.”

    Clever Tom Swifty.

  13. This note added in Addenda section, as of Sixth Day:

    After completion of this thread in January, we will see about making a new post, or a series of comments right here, to sample or present some of those partial or full twelve-day series from familiar comics.

    Such as Mother Goose (& Grimm), Top Of the Mark, and Queen Victoria.

  14. What kind of geese are those from the top cartoon? Looks like a bunch of Foghorn Leghorns to me

    I don’t know, but there are six of them and they are laying, or anyway lying .. down.

  15. woozy “Anyone care to explain the Five Golden Rings one?” –

    Just five Olympic gold medals, and the Olympic flag has five rings? But that’s all I have. The gold medals are arranged in the shape of the Olympic flag, sorta (though not overlapping as they orta).

    The cartoon geese are just lying down, so claiming them for “laying” is wrong.

  16. Geese can lay eggs, after a fashion they can even lay down, but you’d be lying if you said you were imitating those geese,

  17. I had to think about the billybob’s comment, and I think I get it and it’s not a grammatical infraction. It’s like, “How do you get down off an elephant?”

  18. There is a prescriptive account of lay and lie. I’m going to paste a reference I made in another thread, but it is relevant to these geese cartoons. The blog post is by Arnold Zwicky, but the main discussion is quoted from Geoff Pullum.

    Boise Ed says: I’ll give Liz Climo a try for a while. There seems to be no pattern of publication dates,

    I know. I ran across her with the one I used in the Twelve Days, with six geese. It was at Arnold Zwicky’s blog for today, and he called it “Liz Climo’s cartoon for today, 12/30, the 6th day of Christmas (“Six geese a-laying” — that is, laying eggs)” but I could not find it on either GoComics or her Tumblr site, even thumbing back to December 2019 in case that was where it really was from.

    (Precautionary note: don’t go browsing in the Arnold Zwicky blog if you’re not prepared to see some explicit content — though he calls it “A blog mostly about language” he also gets personal and sexual. For CIDU-relevant content, one could follow just his tagged “Linguistics in comics” category through url or more specifically his Comic Conventions category, thru the url )

  19. Is there something odd about that YouTube link (for the Sufan Stevens music, seventh day post)? It was pushing for me to “sign in”. But played it for me anyway, though I did not sign in. Did you link to some sort of Premium or reserved video?

  20. The Arnold Zwicky blog link I posted previously had most of its content coming from a Language Log post from 2004 by Geoff Pullum, and was excerpted and linearized in a way that would not make it appealing out of context. So let me here link directly to the Pullum article on “Lie or Lay”.

    Both the original Pullum article and the threads in the Zwicky blog are good illustrations of the point that, as professional linguists, they are committed to a descriptive view on language, yet retain an interest in prescriptivism and enjoy examining and refining prescriptivist sources.

  21. Let’s see if a table from Pullum’s article will paste cleanly. This means to sort out the prescriptively preferred distinctions of the related verbs and how they are spelled and pronounced.


    “tell untruths”
    “be recumbent”
    plain present form lie lie lay
    3rd sg present form lies lies lays
    preterite form lied lay laid
    plain form lie lie lay
    gerund-participle lying lying laying
    past participle lied lain laid

  22. Here is more from Pullum. Eventually it includes the Bob Dylan song title.

    (This part quoted by Zwicky) Here are the promised additional remarks. The general assumption is that the problem here is confusing the two verbs -- simply not knowing one from the other. But that's not quite what's going on. Everyone knows the difference between them, at least in some uses. For a phrase like The island of Madagascar lies several hundred miles off the east coast of southern Africa, no one is tempted to say lays. For a phrase like This hen lays a minmum of seven eggs a week, no one is tempted to say lies. For You are lying in your teeth, you lying bastard no one is tempted to say laying. For I got laid last night no one is tempted to say lain (it's a special idiom, of course, but the point is that the idiom is based on the verb lay, and we are intuitively aware of that). We know how to tell these verbs apart to at least some extent.

    Nonetheless, it is true that the intransitive verb meaning "be recumbent" and the transitive verb meaning "deposit" (which is essentially the causative of the first one: it means "cause to lie") are beginning to share some of each other's uses in a way that is not fully accepted as standard yet. In fact the pool of relevant data is beginning to be (from the purist's point of view) highly polluted. Assuming the standard prescriptivist version of how English is and ought to remain (basically as set out in the table above), we have large numbers of "errors" all around us. Here is a moderately random sample of what's out there:

    Phrase Source Prescriptivist judgment
    As I lay dying William Faulkner title (a.k.a.
    (preterite tense)
    As I lie dying from a Bayne MacGregor poem Correct
    (present tense)
    Lay, lady, lay Bob Dylan song Incorrect
    Lay down your weary tune Bob Dylan song Correct
    Lay down, little doggies Woody Guthrie song Incorrect
    When I Lay My Burden Down Mississippi Fred
    Come and lay down by my side Kris Kristofferson song “Help me
    make it through the night”
    Lay it soft against my skin Kris Kristofferson song “Help me
    make it through the night”
    lie it on the floor web page about indoor marijuana
    lay it on the floor web page about
    lay on the floor web page about spine
    lie on the floor web page about abdominal

  23. So, the Dylan song title (and refrain within the lyrics) is basically incorrect? Yeah, I think we knew that. But lay helps us hear it as what Mark in Boston calls the NSFW way. 🙂

  24. For those following the math thread, please note the clever graphic added in the bottom Addenda section. Oho oh oh, what was the source? Did I note it anywhere? Oh, shoot, better fix that!

  25. It’s a bit odd that those eight maids a-milking from the Bailiwick of Guernsey are milking Holstein-Friesian cows and not Guernseys (which are brown and white).

  26. This is the first time I heard of a bailiwick being a real thing, I guess like a county or township or shire.

  27. I indistinctly recall learning that the head of a bailiwick would be a bailiff! Just as a duke rules a duchy, and even a count rules a county. Well, not most American counties. Nice idea, in Seattle or in Brooklyn you could have the “Count of King” in charge.

  28. “I indistinctly recall learning that the head of a bailiwick would be a bailiff!”

    Baliffs are common, but Sark used to be rule by a Dame, and there is Nothing Like one of them.

  29. re: “I indistinctly recall learning that the head of a bailiwick would be a bailiff! Just as a duke rules a duchy, and even a count rules a county.”

    Not like a duke rules a duchy. A bailiff is not nobleman. Historically, a sheriff was the legal official whose jurisdiction was a shire. The shire was then divided into to bailiwicks, each of which fell under the jurisdiction of a bailiff hired or appointed by the sheriff.

  30. Headline: “10,000 men to lay Alberta Pipeline”

    Character with parody Italian accent: “She must be pretty hot, that Alberta Pippa-linna!”

  31. I’ve never heard them referred to as ‘tetrahedral numbers’. I’ve heard them called the cannonball numbers, which makes sense to my students.

  32. Fair enough. Of course, if you ask what the shape of a stack of cannonballs is, “tetrahedron” would be a good answer, if you had already introduced the term.

  33. Though on reflection, what must be meant here is “triangular tetrahedral” numbers, but if you encounter actual stacks of cannonballs they may more likely be arranged in “square pyramids” .

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