Twelfth Night: Jolliness as 12 Days of Christmas end

Group of commoners in a painting, drinking, dancing and acting foolishly

Masquerading and foolery have been Twelfth Night festivities for centuries. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JANUARY 5: Mayhem and jolliness rule Twelfth Night, the final event of the 12 days of Christmas and the eve of Epiphany. Though its significance has been lesser known in recent decades, the commercialism of the holiday season is now causing more people to “let off steam” with the goofiness that once reigned on January 5. In earlier centuries, masquerades, role reversals, a Lord of Misrule and pantomimes were common.

Twelfth Night banner decorated with evergreens

A Twelfth Night banner is paraded around the courtyard of the George Inn, in England. Photo by Stephen Craven

As with most Christmas traditions, the customs of Twelfth Night are a blend of Christian and pagan practices. (Wikipedia has details.) The Three Kings are kept in mind with a King Cake, but a pagan tradition took “king of the day” to a new level: peasants acted as kings and royalty as the common man. The typical King Cake is still baked with a bean inside, and the recipient of the bean in his or her piece of cake then becomes “king” or “queen” until midnight. In England, massive feasts would be host to various masquerading games and plenty of food, and today, wassail and king cakes are still consumed on Twelfth Night.

RECIPES, ACTIVITIES & MORE

Sip Lamb’s Wool (a type of Wassail) and bite into a King Cake, two customary dishes served on Twelfth Night. Check out recipes at Fish Eaters.  An English Twelfth Night Cake recipe is courtesy of the New York Times, and Food Network provides Twelfth Night Turkey with Wild Rice Stuffing and Ale Reduction.

Tradition has it that the “king” or “queen” of the day is addressed as royalty and must be obeyed. Let the bean in your cake determine who is king or queen!

Plan a children’s Twelfth Night party, complete with a cake and DIY crowns for the three children who receive a bean in their cake. Find more activities at Catholic Culture.

IN THE NEWS

From sold-out shows in London’s West End, Twelfth Night—the Shakespearean comedy that was intended as entertainment for the offbeat evening—is hitting Broadway for 16 weeks, through Feb. 16. Meanwhile, Twelfth Night party popularity is on the upswing, from the musical activities of Trinity Wall Street New York (New York Times reported) to the Mill Race festivities in Cambridge and a celebration in Concord.

In Catholicism and many countries worldwide, Twelfth Night and Epiphany usher in Carnival season, which lasts through Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday).

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