Eight maids a-milking, with biceps like barrels

TODAY is the fifth day of Christmas.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me – five go-old rings.

Except that I don’t have a true love, and five gold rings sounds a bit like an epic by Tolkien involving the forces of evil; and I’d rather not go there at Christmas, thank you very much.

And in the absence of a true love, it might be handy if this were Tuesday already, because the eighth day of Christmas promises eight maids a-milking.

Knowing my luck they’d be built like Friesian heifers.

It’s a lot of nonsense, you know, these 12 days of Christmas. Like most things in the Christian calendar it’s been stolen from someone else.

Long before Christ was in twinkle in God’s eye there was, at the end of every year, a few days left over that no one knew what to do with.

Why? Because the sun and the moon don’t follow the same calendar, that’s why.

The time between full moons is roughly 29.5 days, or 354 days across the 12 lunar months of the year.

But the time it takes the sun to go round the earth is about 365 days, which 11 (sometimes 12) days longer.

So before Christianity turned up the choices were to have years that were 12 days short, according to the sun, in which case you’d end up celebrating the end of the year in June; or to sit twiddling your thumbs for 11 or 12 days while the sun caught up.

This is what we are now doing. We are sitting twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the sun to catch up, and any hocus pocus about lords a-leaping or partridges in pear trees is exactly that – hocus pocus.

Not that it matters. Some of it is a lot of fun: the Christmas bit and the New Year bit, for instance.

We just need to keep it in perspective. Some of us like to pretend that it’s bad luck to spill salt, and we take precautions against evil spirits when we do so, like chucking some of the salt over our right shoulder with our left hand (or is it our left shoulder with our right hand?) but this is a foolish luxury we allow ourselves.

There aren’t many people who really, truly believe that someone — or something — is lurking behind the curtains, working themselves into a rage because we spilt the salt; or that we can assuage its fury by hurling more salt over our shoulder (and happily most of those who really, truly do believe this are safe from harm in rooms with soft walls).

It’s the same with the 12 days of Christmas. It’s just for fun if we don’t take it too seriously. And in this case it’s actually quite therapeutic. It gives a jolly sense of festival to that infuriating period between parties.

Today is a classic example. There is no room in the wheelie bin for any more wrapping paper or bottles. Even the dog has had enough in the way of turkey and ham shards, and that pre-dinner martini, which sounded so exotic and luxurious on Christmas Day, today sounds too sweet and too… unremarkable… to be bothered with.

I fancy something nice… something tasty… but there’s nothing in the fridge that appeals, and I don’t do drugs. Well, only alcohol, and I’m even bored with that.

No… I’ll just have to sit here drumming my fingers until January 1.

Hang on, I hear you say, don’t you mean December 31? That’s the last day of the year; that’s New Year’s Eve, when the festivities start again.

Nope. I mean January 1, because that’s Tuesday, and if there’s any justice in the world there will be eight rosy-cheeked maids, complete with buckets, and with biceps like barrels of ale, standing outside my front door.

Followed by nine ladies dancing on the Wednesday, although I expect to be dead by then.