The End of Christmastide

Happy January 6th — the Twelfth Day (okay, some say the thirteenth!) after Christmas, which brings our Wenches Christmastide to an end for another year. Since we Wenches love history, I bring you Fun Facts about January 6th:

Nativity-barocci The Feast of the Epiphany, or epiphaneia in Greek, was originally regarded as the birthday of Christ (epiphaneia can mean appearance, incarnation or manifestation), and therefore was celebrated, long ago, as the original feast day of Christmas. It's still celebrated in some churches as their Adoration vanderweyden
Christmas (the Armenian church, for example, and some Greek churches). When the Western and Eastern Churches started argued about theology and rites and dates and other issues, finally splitting apart, the Western Church came to celebrate Christmas on December 25, regarding January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, as the day the three Magi came to visit Jesus and his family in the stable.

(Ephiphany by Barocci, Italian; Adoration of the Magi by Rogier Van Der Weyden, Flemish)

Tiffany Glass Angel 1890 An alternative term for Epiphany in the Eastern Church is theophania from which derives the female name Tiffany. Children in medieval centuries, particularly, were sometimes named for holidays (and we still do that now). Names like Christmas, Noel, Michaelmas, Septuagesima (yep), Easter, Whitsun, Pascal, Ephiphany and Theophania pop up in the old registers and were not uncommon.

So it might be historically accurate for a medieval heroine, for example, to be called Tiffany. Not advisable, perhaps, because the modern connotation has changed the cultural meaning of the name, but plausible historically. (I once named a medieval heroine Michaelmas [in Lady Miracle] because that was her birthday and part of the plot. Yet she began as a secondary character in another book, where the name was not a problem. Once she made it to book-carrying heroine status, it was a little trickier to pull off the name, but I loved it, and its “Micklemis” pronunciation.)  (Tiffany glass angel, 1890)

January 6th was a busy day in history, too. Among many things, it’s said to be the birthday of Richard II in 1367, a Capricornian king in his pride and persistence; in 1412, Jeanne d’Arc was a January 6th Epiphany baby, too, and she put that birthday to good use with not only symbolism and significance, but in her stubborn, get-the-job-done Capricorn nature.

Most of all, January 6th is regarded as the end of the Christmas season, the Twelfth Day that follows the Twelfth Night of January 5th. To some of us, particularly in the States, Twelfth Night isn’t a holiday, just something celebrated in other countries and other cultures. In our house, Twelfth Day is simply known as the day to take down the Christmas tree. I grew up Catholic, with an Irish/Scots mom who insisted that it was bad luck to take down the tree earlier or later than January 6th. A narrow time window, and we all got to work that day dismantling and packing up the Christmas sparkly stuff.

The Bean Feast_Steen In Britain, traditionally the great Yule log that was added to the household hearth to burn throughout Yuletide was finally extinguished on January 6, with a bit saved to light a new fire; and Twelfth Night was a time for celebrations, revelry, some foolery and wassailing and pranks. In some places, a Twelfth Night cake was prepared and shared and, if a bean or other prize was found, a king and queen of the evening were chosen. That was traditional in the Low Countries with the Bean Cake, and in France as well, with the gateau des rois, or cake of kings. (Bean Feast, Jan Steen, Dutch)

Kingcake And the King Cake survives traditionally in the United States as the cake eaten during the Mardi Gras season. Each wildly decorated cake (purple and green icing on a ring brioche, sprinkled with colored sugars, the messier and ookier the better!) contains a tiny king or Baby Jesus, and whoever gets that piece is chosen king, more or less, and must at least buy the next round of cake (and one must be careful not to bite down on the teeny plastic baby figure hidden inside). Mardi Gras, and the eating of lots of King Cake, begins on January 6th and goes through to Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday, when the eatin’ is good and fat before the Lenten fast begins.

And that brings us from the Christmas season right round to spring … though before we look too far ahead, some of us have some winter weather to get through (and, our Aussie authors and readers not to be forgotten, some of us have some hot summer days ahead).

Not being English (alas, as the research for the books would be a little easier), I’ll leave it to our English Wenches and readers to tell us more about Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day in England – and we would love to hear from any of you with Twelfth Day, Epiphany, end-of-the-holiday traditions to share!

A merry season to all, and a very happy 2011 to each and every one of you! As Cara/Andrea expressed yesterday, I too am very grateful to be with the Word Wenches, grateful for their friendship, their talents, and for the camaraderie of this blog, and I’m very thankful to all of our wonderful readers.

In the words of Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night, here's a toast to all the Word Wenches: “Excellent wench, say I!”

Susan

10 thoughts on “The End of Christmastide”

  1. I didn’t know that about the name Tiffany, although I always thought that it couldn’t really be as modern as it sounded to my ears since Heyer used it. I love learning all these interesting bits the Wenches share.
    The holiday traditions at our house end with the January 1 dismantleing of decorations and dinner of black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread. My mother was always careful about greeting the first footer, but that has fallen by the way since her death. If bowl games count as a tradition, we’ll be celebrating through the 10th. Five games remain, three of them involving SEC teams–that’s significant stuff in my family.

    Reply
  2. I didn’t know that about the name Tiffany, although I always thought that it couldn’t really be as modern as it sounded to my ears since Heyer used it. I love learning all these interesting bits the Wenches share.
    The holiday traditions at our house end with the January 1 dismantleing of decorations and dinner of black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread. My mother was always careful about greeting the first footer, but that has fallen by the way since her death. If bowl games count as a tradition, we’ll be celebrating through the 10th. Five games remain, three of them involving SEC teams–that’s significant stuff in my family.

    Reply
  3. I didn’t know that about the name Tiffany, although I always thought that it couldn’t really be as modern as it sounded to my ears since Heyer used it. I love learning all these interesting bits the Wenches share.
    The holiday traditions at our house end with the January 1 dismantleing of decorations and dinner of black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread. My mother was always careful about greeting the first footer, but that has fallen by the way since her death. If bowl games count as a tradition, we’ll be celebrating through the 10th. Five games remain, three of them involving SEC teams–that’s significant stuff in my family.

    Reply
  4. I didn’t know that about the name Tiffany, although I always thought that it couldn’t really be as modern as it sounded to my ears since Heyer used it. I love learning all these interesting bits the Wenches share.
    The holiday traditions at our house end with the January 1 dismantleing of decorations and dinner of black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread. My mother was always careful about greeting the first footer, but that has fallen by the way since her death. If bowl games count as a tradition, we’ll be celebrating through the 10th. Five games remain, three of them involving SEC teams–that’s significant stuff in my family.

    Reply
  5. I didn’t know that about the name Tiffany, although I always thought that it couldn’t really be as modern as it sounded to my ears since Heyer used it. I love learning all these interesting bits the Wenches share.
    The holiday traditions at our house end with the January 1 dismantleing of decorations and dinner of black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread. My mother was always careful about greeting the first footer, but that has fallen by the way since her death. If bowl games count as a tradition, we’ll be celebrating through the 10th. Five games remain, three of them involving SEC teams–that’s significant stuff in my family.

    Reply

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