There are many possible gifts that are generous expressions of love: for instance, twelve drummers drumming (kind of noisy), or a partridge in a pear tree (does that make a good meal?). But those with little to no budgetary limits might be inclined to think (though lesser mortals know they’re wrong) that nothing says “I love you” like teetering towers of cold hard cash (or the equivalent in goods and services). Let’s count our Christmastide upward through twelve increasingly large tidal waves of expensivity.
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On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a handbag that wasn’t quite free ($480,000)
Birkin bags are a line of tote bags or purses that were created in 1984 by the French manufacturer of luxury goods, Hermès. The bags are named after the British actress and singer, Jane Birkin. The Birkin bag became a symbol of wealth and status, mostly due to its intentionally and outrageously high price, with “low-end” leather bags starting around $11,000, and bags made of increasingly exotic materials extending upward into the stratosphere. Since demand for the bags seems to rise with the price, Birkin bags are a poster child for the category of Veblen goods.
The particular example of excess before us, the $480,000 Himalayan Crocodile Birkin, is made from the skin of the Niloticus Crocodile, that is, the Nile crocodile, which has a larger scale pattern than the Porosus (salt water) crocodile. The skin of the purse is buffed by hand to a sheen that shows off every gradation of color, with neutral cremes, beiges, and greys that flow into each other in ways the designer suggests imitate the colors of the majestic Himalayan mountains. Platinum-based Palladium hardware accents the bag, which has double-rolled handles. The interior is made of goat skin (étoupe chèvre) and one side has a zippered pocket. Along with your purchase you will also get a padlock, keys, clochette (bell), dust bags, a rain coat, a box, and a certificate of authenticity so you can verify your status symbol to any doubters. All sales are final.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, rare vintage wine ($558,000)
…and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is one of the most illustrious vineyards in the Burgundy region of east-central France. Many of its wines command high prices at auctions, but, at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018, a bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from the private collection of the famous winemaker and collector, Robert Drouhin, sold for a record amount.
While originally estimated to be worth $32,000, this rare vintage wine sold for well over seventeen times that much, pulling in $558,000. In seeking an explanation for this extraordinary price, the facts of relevance, aside from the purchaser seemingly having too much disposable income for wise use, are that only 600 bottles of this world-renowned wine were produced that year, and 1945 was the last year that the older prized vines were used to make wine. These original vines were uprooted and replaced by newer ones in 1947. A further factor contributing to the value of this particular bottle was that Drouhin had originally purchased it directly from Romanée-Conti, ensuring what Sotheby’s, in its effort to get the best price possible, marketed as the wine’s “pristine provenance.”
Ah well, you only live once, my friends: l’chaim.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, one pricey vacay ($1.4 million)
… rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
A two-week vacation on a private island? No problem. But which one? Musha Cay in the Bahamas, which is owned by the magician David Copperfield, will only cost you $50,000 per night, while Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands will run you $77,500 per night. But why would your true love hold back from the gold standard? Let’s have two weeks on Banwa Private Island in the Philippines for $100,000 per night. That’s $1.4 million for a two-week vacation… plus a short two-hour helicopter flight at an additional $11,580 per round trip for every five people (or you could exercise the economy option and use a 9-person sea plane at $1,980 per round trip).
The Banwa Island Resort is a 15-acre island in the Palawan archipeligo that has six beachfront villas, each with its own jacuzzi and private infinity pool, as well as twelve garden rooms and a residential suite. You can bring 47 of your closest friends to use the island’s full capacity of 48 people. Each guest will have access to a concierge and unlimited spa treatments and numerous activities from jet skiing, kayaking, and scuba diving with sea turtles, to sailing, yoga, and tennis. A complete staff of chefs cook freshly-caught fish from the surrounding seas and serve organic vegetables from the onsite farm. Rare vintage wines (not included in the nightly price) are available for up to $36,000 per bottle.
On the other hand, if you want something close by and less exotic, the Empathy Suite at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas is the most expensive hotel room in America at $100,000 per night, so it also will set you back $1.4 million for a two-week stay.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Tibetan Mastiff ($1.9 million)
… one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
The most expensive dog ever purchased, not surprisingly, comes from the world’s most expensive breed, the Chinese Tibetan Mastiff. In 2014, a Chinese businessman paid $1.9 million for a one-year old 200-pound golden-haired Tibetan Mastiff at a luxury pet fair. It is mostly their novelty and role as a status-symbol among China’s nouveau-riche that has led to the soaring prices for the rare breed. With round manes that give them a lion-like appearance, the dogs are gigantic and can be very fierce, so caveat emptor!
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, one space voyage ($28 million)
… a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
On July 20 of this year (2021), the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Jeff Bezos went to space with his younger brother, Mark, and two others: Wally Funk, an 82-year-old female pilot who was one of thirteen women who went through NASA’s original astronaut training but never made it into space, and the Dutch teenager, Oliver Daemen, who replaced the mysterious auction winner who paid $28 million US for the privilege, but then opted for a later flight. Daemen’s father, who also had participated in the auction, paid an undisclosed lower price when his son was offered the available seat. The $28 million will be given to the Blue Origin foundation Club for the Future, which is dedicated to promoting STEM careers among future generations and innovation for space travel and life in space. At $28 million, the 11-minute flight works out to approximately $2.545 million per minute, $42,424 per second. That’s a cash burn that outpaces the expenditure of rocket fuel!
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Rolls Royce Boat Tail ($28 million)
… one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
The prize for the most expensive new automobile ever made goes to the new Rolls Royce Boat Tail. which also clocks in at a whopping $28 million. Only three of them are scheduled to be made at present, ostensibly for customers with a deep appreciation for the open air and nautical themes. Perhaps you could commission a fourth? Regardless, at over 19 feet long, it’s a fact that the Boat Tail is a proverbial boat.
Sporting the standard Rolls Royce Phantom 6.75-liter V-12 engine generating 563 hp, the Boat Tail can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph, though this hardly seems a matter of concern for an automobile intended for touring. The rear of the car contains an electronic “hosting suite” that opens butterfly-style at the push of a button to reveal a champagne fridge on one side and a place for edible delicacies on the other, with fans to keep the caviar from spoiling if the weather is too hot. A parasol springs up from the center line to provide shade, and there are small tables and carbon fiber stools for car-side picnics at the beach. Let’s not forget the state-of-the-art stereo system, too, with 15 speakers that use the floor structure as a resonance chamber. And, of course, there’s a fixed canopy roof… but if you get caught in the rain without it, there’s a tonneau cover as well.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a crusted diamond timepiece ($55 million)
… a Rolls Royce Boat Tail, one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
The most expensive watch ever made, the Graff Diamonds Hallucination, is valued at $55 million. Designed by Laurence Graff himself, the Hallucination is an encrusted-diamond masterpiece that required his team of gemologists and craftsmen thousands of hours to create. Frosted with 110 carats of diamonds of rare color—intense pink, bright blue, vivid yellow, light grey-blue, light pink, iridescent green, and bright orange—and multiple different cuts—round, marquise, pear-shaped, radiant, and heart-shaped—and set into a bracelet of pure platinum, the Hallucination watch is one-of-a-kind. Don’t expect it to be easy to tell the time, however. The tiny quartz dial, which is framed with pink diamonds, is almost lost in the glitter. Even so, it keeps very accurate time and won’t need a new battery for quite a while!
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, the Wittelsbach-Graff Blue Diamond ($80 million)
… a crusted diamond timepiece, a Rolls Royce Boat Tail, one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond is an internally flawless 31.06 carat fancy deep blue colored diamond. The original rough diamond was discovered in India and the first Wittelsbach Diamond was cut to 35.56 carats.
The earliest record of the diamond dates from 1664 when Philip IV of Spain gave it to his daughter on the occasion of her engagement to Leopold I of Austria. When she died in 1675, Leopold inherited all her jewels and left them to his third wife, who passed them to her granddaughter, Archduchess Maria Amelia, who married the Bavarian Crown Prince Charles Albert in 1722. So it was that the diamond was part of both the Austrian and Bavarian Crown Jewels and became the family diamond of the House of Bavaria, the Wittelsbachs.
In 1931, the diamond was sold at a Christie’s Auction with all the other crown jewels to support the descendants of the royal family during the difficult financial times following the First World War. Its history after that becomes murky until 1962, when it was recognized by a Belgian diamond dealer by the name of Joseph Komkommer, who formed a group of diamond buyers to purchase the jewel from the trustees of the estate of an individual of undisclosed identity.
In 1964, it was purchased by a private collector and then the jeweler, Laurence Graff, purchased the diamond in 2008, having it recut in 2010 by three diamond cutters to remove flaws. In 2011, Graff sold the diamond to the former emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa, for at least $80 million. Maybe it’s for sale again… at the right price, of course.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a lavish mega-yacht ($500 million)
… the Wittelsbach-Graaf blue diamond, a crusted diamond timepiece, a Rolls Royce Boat Tail, one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
Shrouded in client secrecy, the Dutch builder Oceanco is constructing a $500 million super-yacht for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that will be the largest private yacht in the world. It is 417-feet long and will have a classically-shaped black hull and three masts, with three large decks, an on-deck swimming pool, a cinema, several lounges, and multiple areas for conducting business spread around the three decks. Bezos has also purchased a smaller yacht to shadow his super-yacht—a custom version of the Damen Yachts model YS 7512—that will be used to carry cars and helicopters, and will, of course, have a helipad. The new yacht is expected to sail in 2022 after undergoing sea trials and, once officially in service, will supplant the Sea Cloud and the Flying Fox as the largest ocean-going yacht in the world.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a private jetliner ($600 million)
… a lavish mega-yacht, the Wittelsbach-Graaf blue diamond, a crusted diamond timepiece, a Rolls Royce Boat Tail, one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
Thinking he might be able to resell it for a profit, at the Dubai Air Show in 2007, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia contracted the building of a flying palace in the form of an Airbus A380. The A380 is the largest passenger aircraft ever made and one of the heaviest, too, weighing in at 1.3 million pounds. Prince Alwaleed’s original conceptualization included a car garage, a Turkish bath, two decks of living and working space, and an exclusive residence for VIPs on the upper deck. The aircraft was in limbo for a number of years, in part because of the world financial crisis of 2008, and in part because it appears that the prince decided he didn’t want the plane after all. Even so, delivery of the A380 was completed at the end of 2012, though it is reported to be sitting on the tarmac of Airbus property in Toulouse, France, bereft of any internal decorations. I’m sure Prince Alwaleed would be happy to sell it to you to finish as you please.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a huge Mumbai mansion ($2 billion)
… a private jetliner, a lavish mega-yacht, the Wittelsbach-Graaf blue diamond, a crusted diamond timepiece, a Rolls Royce Boat Tail, one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
Considered the world’s most expensive private residence, since the autumn of 2011, Antilia has been the home of the Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani and his family. It is located along Billionaires’ Row in Mumbai and is named after the mythical island, Antillia. The structure has 27 storeys, but each floor has the height of two in a normal building, so it stands 568 feet tall, more like a building that is at least 54 storeys high. It was designed by two American architecture firms, Dallas-based Perkins and Will, and Los Angeles-based Hirsch Bedner Associates. It can withstand an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter Scale.
Antilia is the epitome of opulent excess, featuring a variety of luxuries, like a 168-car garage, a ballroom, nine high-speed elevators, terrace gardens, a 50-seat theater, a swimming pool, a spa and health center, a Hindu temple, three helipads, its own air-traffic control, a salon, an ice-cream parlor, several guest suites, and a snow-room that spits out man-made snowflakes from the walls if the heat in Mumbai is too much for its pampered residents. The top six floors are reserved as private space for the Ambani family.
The land on which Antilia is built has a controversial history. It was originally the property of an orphanage called Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Yateemkhana and the home for 60 orphans. In 2002, the trust that owned the property requested permission to sell the land, and this permission was granted by the charity commissioner three months later. The problem was that the land was allocated for the purpose of educating underprivileged Khoja children, yet it was sold to a commercial entity controlled by Mukesh Ambani. What’s even worse is that the land was sold for $3 million when it was worth $21 million. The sale was further in direct contravention of the Wakf Act and this led to a series of court cases, the last of which was dismissed in 2019. In any case, there remains a widespread public perception that Antilia is emblematic of the lack of empathy that rich Indians have for the poor in their country.
While Antilia is by far the largest, most expensive, and lavish private residence on the planet considered as a whole, at $2 billion with 400,000 square feet, it’s still “only” $5,000 per square foot. So maybe you could buy it and turn it into the world’s most luxurious orphanage… or just give the money directly to orphanages around the world—that would probably be the best thing.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six billion for world hunger ($6 billion)
… a huge Mumbai mansion, a private jetliner, a lavish mega-yacht, the Wittelsbach-Graaf blue diamond, a crusted diamond timepiece, a Rolls Royce Boat Tail, one space voyage, a Tibetan mastiff, one pricey vacay, rare vintage wine, and a handbag that wasn’t quite free.
Here’s some news, though there’s a lot of uncertainty around it: David Beasley, director of the United Nations World Food Program and former Republican governor of South Carolina, provided a 1,000-word executive summary of a $6.6 billion dollar plan to address an immediate starvation crisis affecting 42 million people in 43 countries around the world as a response when Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and the Boring Company, responded to a tweet in which Beasley had tagged both Musk and Jeff Bezos, stating that it was time for the world’s ultra-rich to step up on a one-time basis to save the lives of millions of people.
Earlier, Beasley had claimed that a perfect storm of COVID, political conflict, climate change, and rising supply-chain costs was producing an urgent and unprecedented crisis of world hunger that a one-time infusion of $6 billion could avert. He described the money as helping t0 “solve world hunger,” and tagged Musk and Bezos, challenging them to step up. Musk responded that “if WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.” Musk insisted on open-source accounting so the public could see exactly how the money gets spent.
In Beasley’s executive summary, the WFP allots $3.5 billion to the purchase and direct delivery of the food, another $2 billion for cash and food vouchers and transaction fees in places where markets are functional, $700 million for the creation and management of new food programs adapted to local conditions in multiple places where the most vulnerable live, and a final $400 million for operations management, supply-chain coordination, administration, and accountability. Beasley assured Musk that systems were in place for transparency and open source accounting. As Beasley put it in a follow-up CNN interview, “Any and everything he asks, we would be glad to answer. I look forward to having this discussion with him because lives are at stake.”
Will this really happen? If it does, will it really save 42 million lives? And what will be the long-term impact on the world hunger crisis? Stay tuned! What’s clear lately is that Musk has been selling Tesla stock like it’s going out of style, and it doesn’t seem like it’s all so he can pay his taxes.
The Traditional Twelve Days (Sort Of)
We’ve been singing a rather non-traditional version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Before we offer some final thoughts to put all this excess in perspective, let’s have a word about the traditional Christmas carol, which seems, to the say the least, one of the most idiosyncratic carols in the standard seasonal repertoire.
The first thing to understand is that the twelve days of Christmas represent the time period between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi (the three wise men with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.). They begin on Christmas Day (December 25) and run through Epiphany (January 6). This period of time on the liturgical calendar is also known as Twelvetide or Christmastide, and it follows Advent, the four weeks immediately preceding Christmas that end on December 24.
The carol first appeared as a chant without music in England around 1780, and is thought to have been French in origin. The standard melody now associated with it derives from the 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk tune by the English singer and composer, Frederic Austin. As far as the symbolic nature of the gifts is concerned, these also have traditional meanings in the Christian context:
The partridge in the pear tree represents Christ, whose birthday is celebrated on the first day of Christmas. The partridge was chosen because it is a bird that will die to protect its young.
The two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible. They tell the story of God’s plan of redemption as it unfolds throughout history.
The three French hens stand for faith, hope, and love that, as discussed in 1 Corinthians 13, should distinguish Christian character.
The four calling birds stand for the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which open the New Testament.
The five golden rings stand for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation detailed in Genesis 1, when God “hatched” the world.
The seven swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit derived from Isaiah 11:1-3: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and reverence of God.
The eight maids a-milking are those whom the world holds in low regard, but are still blessed if they are in the Kingdom of God, as Jesus proclaimed in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10): the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
The nine ladies dancing are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful disciples, minus the twelfth, Judas, who betrayed Christ.
The twelve drummers drumming are the twelve points of doctrine outlined in the Apostle’s Creed that is common to orthodox Christians everywhere.
So now you know. On the other hand, it can be fun to take the carol quite literally too, like these fellows below:
Putting It All in Perspective
Six billion dollars for world hunger is an amazing thing—and God bless Elon Musk if he follows through on it, the U.N. is held accountable, and millions of the hungry are fed—but will it solve all our problems? No, far from it. Is there any gift that would? Only one: a gift that plants the necessary seed of transformation in human hearts that in the fullness of time will make everything right. No human effort can achieve this. It is God’s prerogative to plant the seed that will initiate the long road to human wholeness.
And God has already given the priceless gift opening this path. It is the gift that lies at the heart of Christmas, and it is the inspiration for all Christmas giving:
For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulders;
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God,
the Everlasting Father,
the Prince of Peace.
Unto us a Child is born, one who brings with Him and in Him the reality of the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 9:6-7), one who bids us change the way we think, for the Kingdom of God is at hand, and we can step into it and live there (Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 4:12-25).
When we dwell in it, this Kingdom is one in which even the poor are blessed, those who mourn are comforted, those who thirst for righteousness and justice find satisfaction, those who are meek have an inheritance, those who are pure find rest and fulfillment in goodness, those who are merciful receive mercy, those who make peace are brothers and sisters of the Prince of Peace, and those who are persecuted for doing what is right dwell in ultimate safety (Matthew 5:1-16).
Life in the Kingdom of God is life without lack (Psalm 23), and this present reality with its challenges and trials is but an infinitesimal part of it, light affliction, achieving an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). So broaden your perspective. Do not let your heart be troubled (John 14:1-3, 27): we live life in the light of eternity, and we can be secure in God’s promises, in his goodness, and in his grace, all available without limit in Christ (John 17:3). Awake, for the light has dawned, and eternity is now in session.