On the 12th Day of Christmas…

12th nightOn the 12th Day of Christmas, Christmas is over. Finished. Done. Complete. Today is Twelfth Night, the final day of the twelve days of Christmas. This is the night before epiphany and signals the end of the season. The earliest origins of Twelfth Night can be found in ancient Rome. It was a festival and celebration to end the winter solstice festivals and begin the long stretch of winter. The more modern practices go back to Medieval England. Twelfth Night was a night of celebration to mark the end fo the season. There was much music and dancing and a large feast. The feast would have a king and queen crowned to preside over the festivities. A plum cake was served with a bean and a pea baked into it. The man who found the bean was named the king and the woman who found the pea was named the queen. If a woman found the bean she got to be queen and named her own king. These festivals were lots of fun- nights of pranks, costumes, and role reversals. A kind of free-for-all with no rules and wild abandon. In some towns large groups with blackened faces would roam the streets causing a loud uproar to chase away and bad spirits. These traditions carried over to the new world and colonial America saw similar festivals and feasts, and many formal balls. These large Twelfth Night balls were particularly popular in the south. Even President Washington and his wife Martha hosted huge annual parties. This might also be because January 5th was their wedding anniversary! By the mid-1800s the emphasis on Twelfth Night had dwindled and large Christmas Day celebrations had become the new trend.

WassailSome other holiday tradition are also connected to Twelfth Night. Wassail was connected with the night as part of the festivities to place a good blessing on the orchards. A mix of cider and ale was made and then taken to the orchard groves. Singing and merriment would move to the trees and the mixture was poured on the roots to ensure a good crop of apples the following fall. The fire of the yule log would be extinguished on Twelfth Night. This log was lit and kept burning through the whole season and extinguished on this night. The remains would be kept to be used to light the next log the following year. Twelfth night is not just an ending but a beginning too. It signals the start of the carnival season the will continue through Mardi Gras and end on Ash Wednesday. So much more on the 12th day of Christmas than those drummers drumming!

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