Twelfth Night!

by Mary Jo

This is the last of the Word Wench Christmastide posts, which celebrate the time between Christmas and Epiphany, so I decided to research the holiday a bit Depositphotos_60077799_XLmore.  It might be celebrated on either January 5th or January 6th, depending on whether Christmas Day is counted as the first day, or Boxing Day, the 26th, is the first. 

In some parts of the world it's called the Feast of the Three Kings because the holiday celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men as they followed the star to Bethlehem to celebrate the arrival of 'the newborn king.' 

Even as a kid, I wondered about the logistics of this.  They couldn't have been very far away if they reached their goal in twelve days, and how accurate would a star be for guidance?  The traditional pictures usually show the star hovering over the stable like an LED lit drone.  Really?


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Regency Twelfth Cake!

Twelfth-Cake-with-feathersNicola here. It’s Twelfth Night today, marking the end of the Christmas festivities (assuming that you count the twelve days from Christmas Day. Some traditions start counting on 26th December meaning you can keep partying until the 6th!)

There are a number of different ways in which Twelfth Night has been celebrated through the centuries. In the Georgian period they were keen on baking a special cake to mark the occasion. The Historic Food website has some fascinating information on this.

The earliest printed recipe for an English Twelfth Cake appears to date from 1803 and was Queen for the nightrecorded by John Mollard in his cookery book of that date. Originally the Twelfth Cake contained a pea and a bean and whoever found these in their slice were elected as King and Queen of the Twelfth Night festivities. In the early Victorian period, this tradition developed into “Twelfth Night Cards.” All the guests at the party would be invited to choose a card from a special pack illustrating the different “characters” of Twelfth Night. Along with the King and Queen these might include Sir Bob Bergamot the fop, Fanny Farcical the actress, Priscilla Passion… Well, you can imagine her profession! You then had to act in character for whichever card you had picked until midnight. Allegedly, Queen Victoria eventually banned the Twelfth Night parties for fear they were getting out of hand!

Partying may be banned at present as well but at least we can still eat cake. So if you fancy baking up a slice of Twelfth Cake, the original 1803 recipe is below:

Twelthnight-cakeTake seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.

From John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).

There is a more modern recipe on the National Trust website.

Alternatively, you may prefer a different sort of Twelfth Night feast? What would your choice of special sweet or savoury treat be to celebrate the last night of Christmas?

Twelfth Night

1280px-Mummers _by_Robert_Seymour _1836
Just calculating which night is Twelfth Night is a madness of calendars and churches. I am afraid to even say with certainty that the twelfth day of Christmas is Epiphany, since not everyone agrees. (Susan King had an explanation or two about the date
) So I will not declare today, January 6th, anything at all but will talk about Twelfth Night in general.

960px-Haydel_King_Cake_New_Orleans_Feb_2019Way back in 567 the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany were declared a sacred, festive season. The Tudors, naturally enjoying festivities, decided Epiphany was the start of still another season called Epiphanytide to extend the fun and games. They hid a bean or pea inside a Twelfth-night cake and whoever found the pea in their slice became king or queen of Twelfth-night and led the feast and fun.

The feasting and fun included Christmas carols, mumming (a blog all of its own about costumed Yule logcharacters!), wassail and wassailing, and king cake (a New Orleans tradition to this day. Our esteemed Jo Beverley had more to say here). In many places, decorations had to come down on this day, but this was also the day to add the kings to the nativity scene. In earlier times, Christmas trees were decorated with fruits and nuts—hard to come by and expensive—so when the tree came down, everyone gathered to feast on the ornaments. I kind of prefer that to stuffing all that junk back in boxes to be stored for another year! Of course, this was also the night the Yule Log was removed, leaving only a flame to light the next fire.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was written to be played on this night’s revels. That’s a rather fine mummer’s play! A little bit more about mummers here .

R_Staines_Malvolio_Shakespeare_Twelfth_Night(although this image appears to be Italian and a lovely spring day, not exactly an English 12th night!)

I’m not sure I have the energy to carry festivities for twelve entire nights! Christmas and New Years are about my limit. I wonder if in medieval times this wasn’t a way of the poor squeezing just a little bit more food out of the wealthy during a time of year when food was hard to come by? They could dress in costumes, put on plays, and the wealthy would provide banquets for the entertainment. Food has certainly been a large part of Christmastide, with little to do with the perceived origin of the holiday.

But today we all go back to work, so I’m guessing king cakes aren’t on anyone’s agenda. When do you take your tree down?

And the Christmas Tree Comes Down

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, the last of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. It's gone and taken with it the Twelve Drummers Creche 7Drumming, Eleven Pipers Piping and the rest of that leaping, dancing, twittering lot. If you went in for Twelfth Night festivities — the way my Regency folks probably did — you'd be sleeping off a surfeit the food and drink today

We've come to the feast of Epiphany.

In my house, this is the day we take all the Christmas stuff down.

Christmas tree 2014 4I had a small, small Christmas tree this year. Green branches in various places, but a small tree. Many beautiful presents from friends and family. Much love. But not so much decoration of the house.  (The Kid had all four wisdom teeth out two days before Christmas so I was mostly figuring out how to be festive with no solid foods.)

Today I took the little tree down and de-decorated it. I will go out in the next couple days and plant it in a specially wondrous spot at the edge of the woods. For me, here at the beginning of the year, this is re-creation and new committment and planting a tree goes with that.
3 kings
In other news, Epiphany is the day the Magi show up, bearing gifts.  Melchior, 118px-07._Camel_Profile,_near_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007Caspar, and Balthazar bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Somehow I always think of camels on this date. They're bad-tempered, if you were wondering, and they bite.

So … when do you put up your Christmas tree and when do you take it down? And, like, why?

All About Aunts

Spinning wheelNicola here. Today, 7th January, is St Distaff’s
Day and I am writing in praise of aunts. I expect a lot of us may have been
back at work a while but in the past the 7th January was
traditionally the day on which everyone went back to work after the Twelfth
Night holiday. It took the name St Distaff’s Day because it was the day on
which we ladies were supposed to be picking up our spinning once again, the
tool of the trade for women being the distaff to spin flax. From the trade of
spinning comes the word spinster, a recognised legal term for an unmarried
woman. The spear side and the distaff side were legal terms to distinguish the
inheritance of male and female children. 

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