Friday, 6 January 2017

Twelfth Night

So today is the day to take down all the decorations and pack Christmas away for another year. Yes, Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the festivities is here. I thought I'd take a look at some of the traditions associated with Twelfth Night.

In the Christian tradition Twelfth Night marks the beginning of Epiphany, the time when the Wise Men visited the infant Jesus. It is also the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrated in the song so expect to receive 12 drummers drumming at some stage today!

The winter festivities that began at Halloween come to an end on Twelfth Night. In medieval and Tudor England the Lord of Misrule was chosen, often by chance for example the person who found a bean in a pudding was the Lord of Misrule for the night. The social conventions were reversed for the night with servants becoming masters and the masters becoming their servants. So those of you with servants will be pouring drinks for them tonight!

Twelfth Night was also the end of the feasting of Christmas and another chance to have a party. Traditionally wassail would be drunk, this is  a type of punch and wassailing was also the singing that took place as the punch was drunk. Twelfth Night cake was also eaten. Drury Lane Theatre has a tradition dating back to 1795 where a special cake is baked and shared by the company performing there on January 6th.

There was also a tradition of scaring away evil spirits on this date and in the Alps there is a tradition of young men running through the streets shouting and banging drums and shaking bells to scare those spirits away - any excuse for a party! There is also a tradition that Twelfth Night is the start of the carnival season that runs until Mardi Gras - what more parties?

Of course the most famous Twelfth Night is the play by Shakespeare. It draws on many of the traditions of misrule which were popular at the time - men dress as woman and servants became masters for the night. It is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I have happy of damp memories of watching an open-air performance at Ludlow Castle when heavily pregnant!

So tonight as we pack the tinsel away and chuck the tree into the garden let's raise a glass to the spirit of Christmas and enjoy a last festive party until next year. Cheers!

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