Welcome back to the Wenches, and many thanks to Mary Jo for the Reindawgs! We’re glad to return from our holidays, and hope yours were rich with joy, happiness, good fellowship, and other such splendid things.
While Twelfth Night is still a few days away, I’ve decided to address it today for several reasons. As the traditional (and more secular) conclusion to the Christmas season, it seems appropriate to mention it now, at the end of our own holiday break. Twelfth Night slips by virtually unnoticed here in modern-day America, but it was an important holiday in the past. Since I’m sure that my Wenchly compatriots will be discussing the celebration in various time periods, I’ll launch the Twelfth Night-ship with a look at the festivities during my (for now) favorite era, Restoration England.
Which means, of course, my first mention in 2007 of Samuel Pepys. He’s over there to the right, wearing the stylish Indian gown he hired especially for this portrait by John Hayls (now in the National Portrait Gallery, London), and trying very hard to look as haughtily genteel and handsome as he wished he truly could have been.
For those of you firmly ensconced in other eras, Samuel Pepys was a minor administrator in the Naval Office under Lord Sandwich in the 1660s, following Charles II’s return to the throne after Cromwell’s death. Pepys would be completely forgotten today if not for the fact that he kept a relentlessly detailed daily diary that has miraculously survived. Intended for his own eyes and no others (he wrote in a personal shorthand code), he describes not only momentous events in London like the Plague and the Great Fire, but also what he ate, what he wore, where he shopped, how he scolded his servants and loved his wife, and, most importantly for us today, how he celebrated Twelfth Night.
For example, in 1661, Samuel noted that Twelfth Night was celebrated on the seventh of January, not the traditional sixth. The sixth that year fell on a Sunday, an inconvenient Sabbath for drinking and carousing, and so the celebration was shifted a day, much like Americans today casually move the Fourth of July to the fifth to make a three-day weekend.
In the 17th century, Twelfth Night was the day for taking down the evergreen boughs that had been put up as decorations on Christmas Eve (as Jo noted in her Christmas blog.) Before this was done, silly songs were sung, dances danced, and games like Blind Man’s Bluff played by children, and by adults who’d drunk a sufficient amount to make this entertaining. Samuel liked to make this a special night for his friends by hiring a fiddler for singing and dancing, and making sure there were “good fires and candles” in his house.
In 1663, he celebrated by taking his wife to the theatre: “after dinner went to the Duke’s house, and there saw Twelfth Night acted well, though it be but a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day.” Perhaps he can be forgiven for this; Cromwell’s Puritans had shuttered the theatres for twenty years, and even Shakespeare was still a novelty to be rediscovered by Samuel’s generation.
His celebration was more subdued in 1662, when he was a guest at the house of Admiral Sir William Penn (the father of the founder of Pennsylvania): “a merry fellow and pretty good natured, and sings loose songs.” Alas, there were no “loose songs” that night, “it being a solemn feast day with [Sir William], his wedding day, and we had a good chine of beef and other good cheer, besides eighteen mince pies. . . the number of the years he hath been married.”
Eighteen mince pies sounds formidable, but even that appears to have paled besides the traditional Twelfth Night cake. In 1668, Samuel spent twenty shillings for the ingredients alone for this cake (which in a time when common servants and laborers had annual incomes of four to six pounds, made for a costly cake indeed.) Twelfth Night cakes were large, dense fruitcakes, with a pea and a bean baked inside. Whichever guests found these in their pieces were named the King and Queen of the evening, and had the right to order everyone else around, apparently to high hilarity, until the party finally broke up at nearly dawn.
For anyone who’d like to try to replicate such a grand cake, here’s the link to the recipe offered by 18th century cook Hannah Glassem on the Colonial Williamsburg site: http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/Christmas04/recipe.cfm
But in addition to the usual heavy drinking of all Restoration celebrations, it was Twelfth Night, rather than New Year’s Day, that was the time for reflection and resolutions. Though Samuel made his nearly 350 years ago, they sound suspiciously similar to the resolutions I’ll make for myself today (except, of course, no one in the Restoration worried too much about eating less and exercising more): “This night making an end wholly of Christmas, with a mind fully satisfied with the great pleasures we have had by being abroad from home. . . that it is high time to betake myself to my late vows, which I will tomorrow, God willing, perfect and bind myself to. . . that I may. . . increase my good name and esteem in the world, and get money, which sweetens all things, and whereof I have much need. So home to supper and to bed, blessing God for his mercy to bring me home after much pleasure, to my wife and house and business with health and resolution to fall hard to work again.”
So what about you? Any grand or modest resolutions you’d like to make — and share?