There is, I believe, some debate as to the date on which Twelfth Night falls. As far as I’m concerned it’s tonight (5 January), the twelfth night of Christmas. I have been known to argue that if Twelfth Night were to fall on 6 January then Christmas Day wouldn’t be one of the days of Christmas, and that would be silly. However, as with many ‘Christian’ traditions, the origins of Twelfth Night belong to times way before this religion became popular in Britain. I recently saw a documentary about Twelfth Night celebrations in Tudor times. The festival would kick off with a cake being eaten; the cake contained a bean, and whoever found the bean won the right to rule for the evening, often leading to the lowliest member of the household becoming master for the night. I’m pretty sure that the temporary master or mistress’s instructions involved lots of revelry and lots of booze – as they probably would nowadays!
Thanks to the ever helpful Wikipedia, I’ve discovered this servant becoming master idea originated from ancient Lord of Misrule traditions, included in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Roman Saturnalia festival. The Lord of Misrule represented the world being turned upside down, the servant becoming the master, until midnight when normal rule was restored. The fact that there is some disagreement as to the exact date of Twelfth Night probably harks from these times, as Twelfth Night used to signal the end of a winter festival starting on All Hallows’ Eve rather than the end of Christmastime.
I noticed this morning that the large Christmas tree which has been decorating the village green opposite my house for the last few weeks has been taken down – early! When I was a child, my parents left the Christmas decorations up until Twelfth Night, which was always 5 December as, being a devout Christian, my mum was adamant the Epiphany commenced on the sixth. She used to burn the holly and mistletoe ceremoniously on Twelfth Night, a ceremony I loathed. As the (by then) dried greenery went up in flames, so did the fun and frivolity of the Christmas holidays. All that lay ahead were the depths of winter and the bleak return to school, joyful end of term parties, card swapping and carol concerts but a distant memory. Now I’m in the happy position of loving my job so returning to work holds no dread for me. Indeed, I couldn’t wait to get back to work, but still I won’t be following my mum’s lead and burning my holly and mistletoe. The reasons for this are twofold:
- I don’t have any holly and mistletoe;
- I don’t have a fire.
I will, however, be leaving my decorations up until the Lord of Misrule has done his worst and order is restored.