The 12 Days of Christmas

Just when you thought the math had gone out of the season…


There are twelve days of Christmas.  And according to the song, there were a lot of gifts given over those 12 days.

Which means there’s a math problem lurking in there!

Have students think about ways to calculate the total number of gifts given on the 12th day (12+11+10+9…) or even calculate the total number of gifts given throughout the entire gift-giving season (the gifts from the 12th day added to all the gifts given on the 11th day…). Some may even apply ideas borrowed from Gauss to effortlessly calculate the sum of the arithmetic sequence.

And then if you want to get especially sassy, challenge students to calculate the daily cost of giving each of these extravagant gifts!  Tamara B. shared this awesome website with prices for the items given over the 12 days – including shipping and handling changes – so that you too can figure out what it would cost to give 5 gold rings, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree… not to mention financing the maids a-milkin’!

The site is only updated to 2003, but at least it will provide a starting point. But better yet… If inflation has increased on average 2% a year for the last 12 years… well, the mathematical possibilities are endless!  Consider checking out the Statistic Canada webpage for the actual inflationary numbers. And hold onto your calculators!

Enjoy — and happy ho ho!


PS – For an incredible, fun, fast and mathematically extraordinary experience, watch this video by the inimitable Vi Hart. She will blow your socks off while she explores the 12 Days of Christmas, math style…

One response

  1. Would it be possible to use your wonderful picture on the CD cover of our church choir’s recording of our Twelfth Night Concert?

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