Health Consequences of Actually Living the 12 Days of Christmas

Crowbusters does not, sadly, provide nutrition facts, but assuming your blackbird or crow is roughly the size of a pigeon, eating it by itself will likely set you back an additional 200 calories or so.

Day five: Gold rings (pheasants)

Unlike most things on this list, pheasant-eating is still very much a thing. If your friends still trust you with pies after you sprang that blackbird surprise on them, you can try your hand at pheasant pie, preferably using pheasants that come “with their feet attached.” A serving will set you back 1,365 calories, likely because the recipe also calls for a wholly New-World convenience: pre-prepared puff pastry dough.

Day six: Geese a-laying

Fois gras was first pioneered by the Romans, who force-fed pigs to their geese in order to fatten them. In later centuries, whole geese became the turkey of Europe, eaten on big holidays and rarely otherwise.

You may find it less morally reprehensible to roast an entire goose than to eat fois gras. If so, during the carving process you’ll want to remove all its excess fat, which is copious. A serving of roasted goose comes to about 340 calories, but it has far more fat than either pigeons or partridges. Day six will be your “cheat” day.

Day seven: Swans a-swimming

Wikimedia Commons

Swan was occasionally served in a “lifelike pose” for Medieval nobility, with the skin and feathers first gingerly removed, then later reattached after roasting. In 1482, though, all the swans in England formally became property of the queen, and until the late 1990s, killing or injuring an English swan was considered an act of treason.

The freedom to eat swans is perhaps the most important liberty the Revolutionary War afforded us. Here, then, is an Instructables recipe for swan burgers. It too lacks nutrition facts, so let’s add in another 340 calories, since goose is a related bird.

Be advised, though, that swan tastes like “fishy mutton.”

Day eight: Maids a-milking

After gorging on a menagerie worth of birds, it’s time for the activity-filled portion of the song, i.e. the Crossfit of the 1700s. For all of the exercises, I’m calculating the calories burned based on a 150-pound woman over the course of 30 minutes, and using WebMD’s activity counter.

Let’s start out slow with milking. Doing so by hand for half an hour will burn 102 calories. (A milking machine cuts it down to 51).

Day nine: Ladies dancing

Here’s where it gets tricky. Do we dance the chacha? Flamenco? Disco? They are all differently aerobic.

English country dancing often involved couples forming two long lines and taking turns flitting down the people-tunnel to rejoin at the other end. “Folk” dancing, its approximate equivalent, would burn about 150 calories.

Day 10: Lords a-leaping

This part is similarly confusing. Were they leaping for joy? Did they sit on something sharp? Was this part of the dance?

I’m going to take a logical leap and say that moderate jumping jacks would burn 119 calories.

Image of Irelande

Day 11: Pipers piping

The “pipes” in this case might have been bagpipes, which emerged in the late 15th century. The 1581 book Image of Irelande depicts bag-pipers leading troops into battle—and later being killed alongside the troops. Unless your Christmas tradition is especially gory, though, you can try simply playing the flute, which would burn 68 calories.

Day 12: Drummers drumming

Drums were historically used in England to guide troops in battle, but later, so-called “fife and drum bands” emerged, perhaps sounding something like this.

Playing a set of modern drums burns 136 calories.


If you ate all of the birds in one day, including the pheasant pie, but not including all the trimmings for the other dishes, and subtracted the energy you expended milking, dancing, leaping, and drumming, you’d have consumed 2,384 net calories. That’s really not bad, considering the average American Thanksgiving dinner adds up to about 4,500 calories.

Heal Farm

If hunting obscure waterfowl and rifling through “the shops” for pigeon meat isn’t your thing, you can always order the 12-bird “True Love” roast from Heal Farm, a British food company. The roast puts turduckens to shame, cramming almost all of the birds from the song—along with an assortment of stuffings—into a giant turkey.

If this monstrosity is your Christmas wish, all your true love needs to give to you is £670, or $1,094. Delivery is free.

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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