Twelve Days of David

Courtesy Berluti

On the first day of Christmas...I have sung this holiday classic more times than I care to remember, without much thought to what any of it really meant. Turns out, each lyric is loaded with meaning. For me, the past is merely prologue to…perfect presents. So what exactly is a partridge doing in a pear tree?


1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The Past

The partridge was a symbol for Christ, and the pear tree long associated with the Greek goddess Athena.

The Present

To translate into more secular—and giftable—terms: a union of peace and knowledge perfectly realized in a hand-drawn family tree by artist Elaine Adler. From $2,000; elaineadler.com

2. Turtledoves

The Past

No big mystery here. Doves mate for life and have always been the very picture of love and loyalty.

The Present

The love sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a hopeless romantic if ever there was one. Limited edition from Bauman Rare Books, $1,100; 212-751-0011; baumanrarebooks.com

3. French Hens

The Past

A generous avian trio representing hope, love, and charity.

The Present

Charity Navigator is a Web site that lists thousands of charities and their causes, making it easier to pair an organization with the people on your list. All the more reason to make a donation in their name. charitynavigator.org

4. Calling Birds

The Past

Each bird stood for one of the four gospels.

The Present

Okay, we admit some symbols are harder to interpret than others (especially since the original lyric was “four collie birds”), but Vertu’s newest Signature phone comes with its own concierge on speed dial—free for the first year of service. Amen. $12,600; 212-371-8701; vertu.com

5. Golden Rings

The Past

Originally folks sang of five ring-necked pheasants in hopes it would bring them prosperity.

The Present

We prefer the modern lyric, especially since it works so brilliantly with a Bulgari five-ring bracelet. $3,600; 800-285-4274; bulgari.com

6. Geese A-Laying

The Past

The ancients revered geese as protectors. The number corresponded to the Bible’s six days of creation.

The Present

No one did an egg like Fabergé, but Vivian Alexander pays worthy homage with this diamond- and emerald-studded, enameled sterling-silver minaudière. $16,000; 800-898-0803; vivianalexander.com

7. Awans A-swimming

The Past

The swan was considered the bird of kings and queens.

The Present

Buccellati’s candy dish is (I can’t help but say it) fit for royalty—or at the very least, mint-chocolate malt balls. $3,700; 212-308-2900; buccellati.com

8. Maids A-Milking

The Past

Theories differ. Some point to the eight beatitudes, others to the fact that in refrigerator-deprived 15th-century England, dairy products were prized treats; having them in the house meant merriment was soon to follow.

The Present

My favorite cheese course is from Manhattan’s Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro & Wine Bar, delivered to your door once a month for an entire year. $840 for an annual membership; 877-797-1200; artisanalcheese.com/davidmonncheesecourse

9. Ladies Dancing

The Past

Pagans danced from right to left, a practice forbidden by the church until someone figured out a left-to-right move that pleased the authorities.

The Present

Sure to get people of all denominations on their feet, Labtonic creates three-hour custom playlists; iPod Touch included. $3,800; 917-375-5191; labtonic.com

10. Lords A-Leaping

The Past

The numerical religious correlation is the Ten Commandments; others say the line refers to a soldier’s leap into war.

The Present

Take it from me, Berluti bespoke shoes have a soul of their own. From $5,700; 212-439-6400; berluti.com

11. Pipers Piping

The Past

On the first Christmas, shepherds reportedly played bagpipes to herald the new arrival.

The Present

I’m not sure what those men were wearing in front of the manger, but I can’t think of a chicer bagpipe uniform than a custom plaid by Peter MacDonald. Price upon request; scottishtartans.co.uk

12. Drummers Drumming

The Past

The sound of percussionists playing came to be associated with protection and safety.

The Present

The TD-20S is a techie’s dream drum set: It holds 100 preset songs and has every bell and whistle an amateur—or anyone who wants to make a lot of noise—could wish for. $7,000; rolandus.com