Partridges, Pear Trees Cheap This Christmas

TREATING your true love to all the gifts in ''The 12 Days of Christmas'' won't cost as much this year - but it's still enough to make Santa blush.

The annual tongue-in-cheek survey found that the prices of pear trees, swans, and gold rings dropped compared with last year, while the costs of maids-a-milking, geese-a-laying, and other presents in the song held steady.

Buying all the gifts, from the 12 drummers drumming to the partridge in a pear tree, would cost $12,481.65 - a 21.3 percent decline from last year's prices, according to PNC Bank's annual Christmas Price Index, released Nov. 27.

But the Pittsburgh-based bank calculates the ''true cost of Christmas'' by adding all the gifts given each day - 364 presents, including 12 partridges in pear trees, 36 calling birds, and 24 turtle doves. They come to $51,764.94 - a 29.4 percent decline compared with last year, the bank says.

The drop was the first since 1988, when the index fell 0.6 percent.

PNC started publicizing the index in 1984. Before that, it was an in-house newsletter intended for fun, ''and to prove that occasionally us economists do have a sense of humor,'' PNC economist Rebekah Fickling says.

Greater supply caused the seven swans to go from $7,000 to $3,500. The Philadelphia Zoo, which supplied figures for all the birds in the song, said the population of the endangered North American trumpeter swan has risen from 73 to more than 14,000 in the past 60 years, thanks to the efforts of breeders.

FIVE gold rings dropped from $450 last year to $325 for Christmas 1995, while the price of a pear tree went from $19.99 to $12.50 because of a sale at the nursery that supplies PNC with the cost. Only the price of lords-a-leaping rose, from $3,012.63 to $3,182.57.

Because the minimum wage remained at $4.25, one hour of eight-maids-a-milking still was $34 (cows apparently not included).

Costs for pipers piping and drummers drumming came from Musicians Union Local 77, nine ladies dancing from a local dance company, and 10 lords-a-leaping from a ballet company, Ms. Fickling says.

Prices may vary in different parts of the country, she says, ''and it doesn't take into account if your true love lived far away.'' Shipping and handling isn't mentioned in the traditional Christmas carol.

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