05 January 2012

Twelfth Night

There's a bit of a controversy on which day Twelfth Night actually is. Some state that Christmas Day is the First Day of Christmas, and thus Twelfth Night is January 5, leaving Epiphany as its very own holiday. Other philosophies state that Christmas is its very own day, with the twelve days starting on St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day), which makes Epiphany also Twelfth Night. I subscribe to the former philosophy.

I spent the day playing Christmas LP albums. In the morning I worked, and in the afternoon I started preparing the house for our Twelfth Night party on Saturday. This involves lots of vacuuming and cleaning of bathrooms, mostly, but today I washed all the floors upstairs as well as the foyer, plus cleaned off the cart in the kitchen and continued loading the dishwasher. The music was a great help and made me jollier than I was most of the Christmas season.

In medieval and Renaissance times, Twelfth Night was the night for games and feasting. Traditionally a cake was baked. Again, there are different thoughts on what goes into it. Originally it was a bean and a pea. The man who found the bean became the king of the revels and the woman who found the pea was the queen (how they assured a man found a bean and a woman a pea I'm not sure; perhaps there were two cakes). The French still celebrate with a "King Cake" on Twelfth Night.

Another idea has various (non-melting) fortune-telling charms which go into the cake. A ring means you will be married, a baby means you will have a child, a coin means you will have money, etc.

Robert Herrick

NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

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