How Much Are 3 French Hens?

Introducing the 12 Days of Christmas Song

The “Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol that was first published in 1780 in England, although its origins may date back to France in the late 1700s. The song lists the gifts given by “my true love” on each of the 12 days of Christmas (the 12 days after Christmas Day leading up to Epiphany on January 6).

The song was created as a “memory and forfeits” game in which singers tested their memory of the lyrics. It may have originated as a Twelfth Night “catechism song” used to teach young Catholic children their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was illegal in England. The hidden meanings in the lyrics were thought to be a reference to core Catholic beliefs.

The song became popular in England in the early 1800s when it was published as a sheet music and included in children’s books. It started gaining popularity in the United States in the late 19th century.

Today, it remains one of the most popular and frequently sung Christmas carols around the world. The song has been recorded by many musical artists and featured in pop culture through movies, TV, and more. The gifts mentioned in the song have become iconic symbols of Christmas.


The Gift of 3 French Hens

The gift of three French hens in the 12 Days of Christmas song is thought to have a symbolic meaning related to the Christian faith. According to some sources, the three hens may represent the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (, 2022).

Others suggest the hens signify the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the three Magi or Wise Men who visited the infant Jesus (, 2018). These expensive gifts symbolized Christ’s royal standing, divinity and eventual crucifixion.

The number three also represents the Holy Trinity in Christian tradition – God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. So the three French hens can be seen as an allusion to the Trinity (, 2022).

Overall, the symbolic meaning behind the three hens in the 12 Days of Christmas lyrics relates to central concepts and figures in the Christian faith.

About French Hens

French hens refer to chicken breeds that originated in France. Some of the most popular French hen breeds include:

Ardennaise Chicken – A dual purpose chicken known for its large size and excellent egg laying abilities. This hardy breed thrives well in cold climates (Source).

Bresse Gauloise – Considered the “queen of poultry”, this breed is renowned for its fine meat quality. Bresse hens are calm in temperament and lay medium sized cream colored eggs (Source).

Crèvecœur Chicken – An active foraging breed that is a good egg layer of medium sized brown eggs. Crèvecœurs are friendly but can be noisy at times.

In general, French hen breeds are known for their good egg production, calm temperament, and high quality meat. They come in a variety of colors and sizes. Many French chicken breeds handle cold weather well and make good choices for small farm flocks.

Cost of Buying French Hens Today

French hens are a versatile and popular breed of chicken known for their active foraging abilities and high egg production. Today, the average price for a French hen ranges from $10 to $25 per chicken depending on age, quality, and source.

Hatcheries and farms specializing in poultry often offer mature French hen chickens aged 5 to 7 months old for $15 to $25 each. These hens are typically at or near point-of-lay and can start providing eggs soon after purchase.[1]

Younger French hen chicks, usually sold by mail-order hatcheries when just 1 day old, average around $3 to $5 per chick. Raising chicks from a young age involves added costs for brooder setups, heat lamps, starter feed, and vaccines.

When sourcing locally from small backyard chicken breeders, French hens may cost $10 to $15 each depending on availability. Prices are often lower when buying multiple hens.

Overall, budgeting $15 to $20 per bird is reasonable when pricing out the purchase of three French hens. Factoring in transportation, coops, feed and other supplies, the total cost can easily exceed $100 for three hens.

Historic Cost of 3 French Hens

The lyrics to the 12 Days of Christmas song originated in Europe in the late 1700s. At that time, the gift of three French hens would have been quite extravagant. Poultry was an expensive luxury, and hens that originated from France were considered particularly fancy and exotic.

According to PNC’s 2022 Christmas Price Index, the current cost of three French hens is $330. However, when adjusting for inflation over the centuries, experts estimate the historic price tag for this gift to be much higher.

In the Victorian era during the mid-late 1800s, the cost of three French hens could have ranged from $60-100. Adjusted for today’s prices, that’s an estimated value of $1,500-$2,500. During even earlier centuries when the song first emerged, the birds would have commanded an even steeper price, possibly equivalent to several thousand dollars today.

So while three French hens may seem like an affordable gift choice by modern standards, at the time the lyrics were written, they represented a lavish sentiment of seasonal generosity and romance. The high value placed on these birds helps explain their prominence within the traditional carol.

The Cost of All 12 Gifts

According to PNC Financial Services’ Christmas Price Index for 2023, the total cost of all the gifts mentioned in the classic carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” reached an all-time high this year of $46,729.86. This represents a 19.84% increase compared to the total cost of $38,993.59 in 2019.

The Christmas Price Index calculates the current costs for purchasing all the gifts named in the song, from a partridge in a pear tree to twelve drummers drumming. Costs are determined by pricing the individual items from national chains, online retailers, farms, and experts. For example, the price of seven swans a-swimming is based on the annual upkeep for seven swans from the Philadelphia Zoo.

The huge jump in total cost for the 12 gifts is largely driven by high inflation seen this year. Prices for many goods and services have risen substantially, including those for French hens, gold rings, turtle doves, and other items in the song. The cost increases reflect the broader economic conditions impacting households and businesses in 2023.

While the Christmas Price Index estimate is mostly done in fun, it does highlight the real sticker shock many are feeling this holiday season. Families looking to purchase even just a few of the extravagant 12 gifts would need to shell out big bucks. It serves as an amusing economic indicator of the times.

Modernizing the Lyrics

The 12 Days of Christmas song was originally written in the 18th century, so the lyrics contain old-fashioned gifts that may not resonate as much with modern audiences. Many have put their creative spins on the classic carol by swapping out the traditional presents for more contemporary ideas. Here are some ways to modernize the gift list:

On the first day of Christmas, true love gave to me: a phone watch instead of a partridge in a pear tree. On the second day: wireless earbuds instead of two turtle doves. On the third day: a smart coffee maker instead of three French hens. Other gift ideas include smart home devices, experiences like concert tickets, popular books, gift cards to streaming services, and the latest tech gadgets and accessories.

The core message of giving thoughtful, meaningful gifts to a loved one can remain timeless. But modernizing the specifics to gifts that people today would truly enjoy receiving can keep the song feeling fresh and fun for new generations.

Alternate Interpretations

There are theories that the gifts mentioned in the 12 Days of Christmas song carry a secret or coded meaning. Some believe the song was created as a catechism or memory aid to teach young Christians the fundamentals of the faith. Here are some of the popular symbolic interpretations of the gifts:

The partridge in a pear tree is said to represent Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday is celebrated on the first day of Christmas. The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments. The three French hens stand for faith, hope, and love from 1 Corinthians 13. The four calling birds are the four Gospels. The five golden rings represent the Pentateuch or Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying are the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming denote the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit or the seven sacraments. The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. The ten lords a-leaping stand for the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles. Finally, the twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed.

While these symbolic meanings are disputed, they provide an intriguing way to analyze the classic Christmas song. The gifts can represent different aspects of the faith and spark discussion about biblical history and doctrine.

Pop Culture References

The 12 Days of Christmas song has become ingrained in popular culture and has been referenced in various media over the years. Some examples include:

In the 1993 comedy film The Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a scene where Jack Skellington gives his Christmas gifts which parody the 12 days of Christmas. He gives “Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a skeleton in a pear tree.”

The TV show The Big Bang Theory features an episode in season 6 titled “The Tangible Affection Proof” where the characters argue over the gifts given in the song and joke about their absurdity.

In 2003, comedy musician Weird Al Yankovic released “The Christmas Song,” a parody which lists nonsensical gifts like “Nine croaking frogs, Eight smelly hogs, Seven puppy dogs.”

The 12 days are referenced in Bridget Jones’s Diary in a scene where Bridget’s mom is drunk and confused, mentioning “Five go-old rings” as a gift.

Overall the ubiquity of the song in pop culture demonstrates its lasting impact and how it has become a beloved Christmas tradition.

The Enduring Popularity

The Twelve Days of Christmas has endured as one of the most popular holiday songs for several reasons. First, the repetitive lyrics and accumulative structure make it fun and easy for children to memorize and sing along to. The song builds verse by verse, adding more and more gifts with each round, which keeps it engaging. Second, the imagery and traditional gifts like “lords a-leaping” and “maids a-milking” evoke a feeling of nostalgia and connect us to Christmas celebrations of the past. Even as culture changes, these old-fashioned elements bind generations together. Third, the melody itself is lively, danceable, and catchy. It brings joy and energy to holiday gatherings when people join voices to sing it. And finally, because it can be interpreted and adapted in so many ways, the song stays fresh year after year. Whether humorously changing the lyrics or using it as a coded catechism lesson, The Twelve Days of Christmas continues to delight people of all ages.

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