Twelfth Night (holiday)

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For other uses of "Twelfth Night", see Twelfth Night (disambiguation).
Twelfth Night
Twelfth001.jpg
Mervyn Clitheroe's Twelfth Night party,
by "Phiz" (c )
Observed by Christians
Type Christian
Significance evening prior to Epiphany
Observances Merrymaking
Date 5/6 January
Frequency annual
Related to Twelve Days of Christmas
Epiphany

Twelfth Night is a festival, in some branches of Christianity, marking the coming of the Epiphany and concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas.

It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking".[1] There is some confusion, however, as to which night is Twelfth Night.[2] The older tradition of Twelfth Night being on the eve of 4th January stems from the Hebrew and later Roman Catholic liturgical practice of the day beginning at sunset rather than at midnight as it does now. Thus Twelfth Night falls on the night of 5 January nowadays.[citation needed]

A belief has arisen in modern times, in some English-speaking countries, that it is unlucky to leave Christmas decorations hanging after Twelfth Night, a tradition originally attached to the festival of Candlemas (2 February) which celebrates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.[3]

Origins and history[edit]

Wassailing apple trees on the twelfth night to ensure a good harvest, a tradition in Maplehurst, West Sussex
A Spanish Roscón de reyes, or Kings' ring. This size, approx. 50 cm diameter, usually serves 8 people. This pastry is just one of the many types baked around the world for celebrations during the Twelve Days of Christmas and Twelfth Night.

In medieval and Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve — now more commonly known as Halloween. The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival, a cake that contained a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would rule the feast. Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition dates back to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.[4]

Traditions[edit]

Food and drink are the center of the celebrations in modern times, and all of the most traditional ones go back many centuries. The punch called wassail is consumed especially on Twelfth Night, but throughout Christmas time, especially in the UK. Around the world, special pastries, such as the tortell and king cake are baked on Twelfth Night, and eaten the following day for the Feast of the Epiphany celebrations. In English and French custom, the Twelfth-cake was baked to contain a bean and a pea, so that those who received the slices containing them should be designated king and queen of the night's festivities.[5]

In Ireland it is still the tradition to place the statues of the Three Kings in the crib on Twelfth Night or, at the latest, the following Day Little Christmas.

In colonial America, a Christmas wreath was always left up on the front door of each home, and when taken down at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, any edible portions would be consumed with the other foods of the feast. The same held true in the 19th-20th centuries with fruits adorning Christmas trees. Fresh fruits were hard to come by, and were therefore considered fine and proper gifts and decorations for the tree, wreaths, and home. Again, the tree would be taken down on Twelfth Night, and such fruits, along with nuts and other local produce used, would then be consumed.

In the eastern Alps, a tradition called Perchtenlaufen exists. Two to three hundred masked young men rush about the streets with whips and bells driving out evil spirits.[4] In Nuremberg until 1616, children frightened spirits away by running through the streets and knocking loudly at doors.[4] In some countries, the Twelfth Night and Epiphany mark the start of the Carnival season, which lasts through Mardi Gras Day. Modern American Carnival traditions shine most brightly in New Orleans, where friends gather for weekly King Cake parties. Whoever gets the slice with the "king", usually in the form of a miniature baby doll (symbolic of the Christ Child, "Christ the King"), hosts next week's party.

In parts of Kent, there is a tradition that an edible decoration would be the last part of Christmas to be removed in the Twelfth Night and shared amongst the family.[6]

Drury Lane Theatre in London has had a tradition since 1795 of providing a Twelfth Night cake. The will of Robert Baddeley made a bequest of £100 to provide cake and punch every year for the company in residence at the theatre on 6 January. The tradition still continues.[7]

Old Twelfth Night[edit]

In some places, particularly south-western England, Old Twelfth Night is celebrated on 17 January.[8] This continues the custom on the date determined by the Julian calendar.[9]

In literature[edit]

William Shakespeare wrote the play Twelfth Night, circa 1601.

Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night, or What You Will was written to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment. The earliest known performance took place at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, on Candlemas night, 2 February 1602.[10] The play has many elements that are reversed, in the tradition of Twelfth Night, such as a woman Viola dressing as a man, and a servant Malvolio imagining that he can become a nobleman.

Ben Jonson's The Masque of Blackness was performed on 6 January 1605 at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was originally entitled The Twelvth Nights Revells. The accompanying Masque, The Masque of Beauty was performed in the same court the Sunday night after the Twelfth Night in 1608.[11]

Robert Herrick's poem Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene, published in 1648, describes the election of king and queen by bean and pea in a plum cake, and the homage done to them by the draining of wassail bowls of "lamb's-wool", a drink of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale.

Charles Dickens' 1843 A Christmas Carol briefly mentions Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visiting a children's Twelfth Night party.

In Chapter 6 of Harrison Ainsworth's 1858 novel Mervyn Clitheroe, the eponymous hero is elected King of festivities at the Twelfth Night celebrations held in Tom Shakeshaft's barn, by receiving the slice of plum cake containing the bean; his companion Cissy obtains the pea and becomes queen, and they are seated together in a high corner to view the proceedings. The distribution has been rigged to prevent another person gaining the role. The festivities include country dances, and the introduction of a "Fool Plough", a plough decked with ribands brought into the barn by a dozen mummers together with a grotesque "Old Bessie" (played by a man) and a Fool dressed in animal skins with a fool's hat. The mummers carry wooden swords and perform revelries. The scene in the novel is illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). In the course of the evening, the fool's antics cause a fight to break out, but Mervyn restores order. Three bowls of gin punch are disposed of, and at eleven o'clock the young men make the necessary arrangements to see the young ladies safely home across the fields.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition.
  2. ^ Beckford, Martin (6 January 2009). "Christmas ends in confusion over when Twelfth Night falls". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Of late years a belief has grown up that it is unlucky to leave [evergreens] hanging after Epiphany Eve (5 January), but this seems to be a modern notion [...] The older tradition was that they must come down by Candlemas, the day on which the wider ecclesiastical Christmas season ends." — Radford, ed. Cole (1961). Encyclopaedia of Supersitions. London: Hutchinson.
  4. ^ a b c Miles, Clement A.. Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance. Courier Dover Publications, 1976. ISBN 0-486-23354-5. Robert Herrick (1591–1674) in his poem "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve" writes:
    "Down with the rosemary, and so
    Down with the bays and mistletoe;
    Down with the holly, ivy, all,
    Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"
    According to the Pelican Shakespeare anthology, It was written for a private performance for Elizabeth I in 1601.As Herrick’s poem records, the eve of Candlemas (the day before 2 February) was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes; for any traces of berries, holly and so forth will bring death among the congregation before another year is out.
  5. ^ Miles & John, Hadfield (1961). The Twelve Days of Christmas. London: Cassell & Company. p. 166. 
  6. ^ http://www.bridgefarmersmarket.co.uk/stalls.asp
  7. ^ "The Baddeley Cake". Drury Lane Theatrical Fund. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Iain Hollingshead, Whatever happened to ... wassailing?, The Guardian, 23 December 2005, retrieved 23 May 2014
  9. ^ Xanthe Clay, Traditional cider: Here we come a-wassailing!, The Telegraph, 3 February 2011, retrieved 23 May 2014
  10. ^ Shakespeare, William; Smith, Bruce R. (2001). Twelfth Night: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford/St Martin's. p. 2. ISBN 0-312-20219-9. 
  11. ^ Herford, C.H.; Percy & Evelyn Simpson. (1941). Ben Jonson, Volume VII. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 169–201. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Christmas". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22 December 2005.  Primarily subhead Popular Merrymaking under Liturgy and Custom.
  • Christmas Trivia edited by Jennie Miller Helderman, Mary Caulkins. Gramercy, 2002
  • Marix-Evans, Martin. The Twelve Days of Christmas. Peter Pauper Press, 2002
  • Bowler, Gerry. The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. McClelland & Stewart, 2004
  • Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Zondervan, 2003
  • Wells, Robin Headlam. Shakespeare's Humanism. Cambridge University Press, 2006
  • Fosbrooke, Thomas Dudley c. 1810, 'Encyclopaedia of Antiquities' (Publisher unknown)
  • J. Brand, 1813, 'Popular Antiquities', 2 Vols (London)
  • W. Hone, 1830, 'The Every-Day Book' 3 Vols (London), cf Vol I pp 41–61.

Early English sources[edit]

(drawn from Hone's Every-Day Book, references as found):

  • Vox Graculi, 4to, 1623: 6 January, Masking in the Strand, Cheapside, Holbourne, or Fleet-street (London), and eating of spice-bread.
  • The Popish Kingdom, 'Naogeorgus': Baking of the twelfth-cake with a penny in it, the slices distributed to members of the household to give to the poor: whoever finds the penny is proclaimed king among them.
  • Nichols, Queen Elizabeth's Progresses: An entertainment at Sudley, temp. Elizabeth I, including Melibaeus king of the bean, and Nisa, queen of the pea.
  • Pinkerton, Ancient Scottish Poems: Letter from Sir Thomas Randolph to Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester dated 15 January 1563, mentioning that Lady Flemyng was Queen of the Beene on Twelfth-Day that year.
  • Ben Jonson, Christmas, His Masque (1616, published 1641): A character 'Baby-cake' is attended by an usher carrying a great cake with a beane and a pease.
  • Samuel Pepys, Diaries (1659/60): Epiphany Eve party, selecting of King and Queen by a cake (see King cake).

External links[edit]