Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is usually taken to expire at midnight on 5th January but some argue for 6th January or even 31st December. The first two options are the result of counting the ’12 days of Christmas’, or Twelvetide, either from Christmas Day or, by Christians who regard 25th December as separate, from Boxing Day.

The third option places the starting-point on the eve of the Winter Solstice, i.e. 20th December, known as Mothers’ Night or Módraniht in ancient Paganism and a time to honour female ancestors. In most households today, Twelfth Night serves only as the customary deadline for packing away all the Christmas decorations and preparing to recycle the tree, even though this originates in the superstitious belief that non-compliance would result in goblins coming to your house!

A more enjoyable, though long-forgotten tradition was to bake a cake with a dried bean in one half and a dried pea in the other, and to give slices to guests as they arrived for a Twelfth Night party, carefully ensuring that a male received the bean and a female the pea. These two would be King and Queen for the evening and everyone had to obey their commands, no matter how silly.

(Image: Gerald England at / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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