For those of you familiar with my blog, you’ve probably heard me mention that twelve is my favorite number. It plays into the name of my latest release, TWELFTH SUN, and also happens to be the name of my favorite Shakespeare play, TWELFTH NIGHT.
Given the winter season, I thought I’d use today’s Mythical Monday as a chance to look back on some of the traditions and folklore related to Twelfth Night. Depending on how you’re counting, it occurs on January 5th or 6th (yep, today!) but the traditions are centuries old. For many Christians, it marks the coming of the epiphany and concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Turn back the clock to Medieval England and it marked the end of a winter festival begun on All Hallows Eve. On Twelfth Night, the King and his court traded places with the peasants. All those in attendance shared in a cake baked at the start of the festival. This confection contained a bean, hidden inside. Whoever found the bean was appointed the Lord of Misrule, who presided over the feast, signaling a world turned upside down. At midnight, his rule would end and the normal order was restored.
Elsewhere, farmers would take to their orchards at night with wassail, a hot mulled cider, used in a ritual to invoke a good harvest. Often a king and queen would be chosen to lead a procession into the orchard. The group would sing loudly, hoping to awaken the spirit of the apple trees. The men would lift the queen into the branches where she’d place pieces of toast that had been soaked in wassail as a gift to the trees. Sometimes one of the men would mask himself as a bull, a symbol of fertility in hopes that the coming year would bring a good harvest.
In Colonial America, Christmas wreaths were left on the doors until Twelfth Night. When taken down, any edible bits were removed and consumed as part of a feast. Fruit and nuts were common decorations woven through wreaths, and even used on Christmas trees.
Although I’ve never celebrated Twelfth Night with any type of festivities, I can’t help marking its passing in my mind. Perhaps it’s no more than harkening back to something touched by whimsy and magic. After the joy of Christmas and the glitter of New Years, it’s the last winter celebration of note before the long cold stretch of the remaining season. Perhaps I should brew some wassail for the occasion. 🙂
Here’s hoping your 2014 is off to a great start! Cheers!