Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Last Day Of Christmastide: Twelfth Night, The Carnival Season Begins

Twelfth Night Poster, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1884

This day is important among Christians who maintain liturgical traditions: it marks the end of the twelve day festival celebrating the birth of Christ, it is the eve of Epiphany, and it is the beginning of the carnival season ending with Mardi Gras. Those who are reluctant to bid Christmas farewell can take heart knowing that the Old World tradition of Christmastide actually extends through February 2 or Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

January 5 is time for general merriment, song, dance, and feasting, and plays that turn the world upside down. At Twelfth Night celebrations, it is time for the Lord of Misrule to turn those "above the salt" into peasants, and peasants into kings, to enjoy the mummer's plays, to let the feasting and wassailing carry on past midnight . Only the Surveyor of Ceremonies will appear without a mask. He will direct the company through a series of games and other activities beginning with the distribution of the Twelfth Cakes. When all the party goers have arrived, each will select a small festival cake or cake slice. Three of those cakes contain a hidden bean or token designating them as the king cake, queen cake and fool cake. The lucky holders of the royal cakes oversee the evening's activities. 

Here is some late 17th century party music revellers of that era would have enjoyed.

Here at our household we trust that you experienced a wonder-filled Christmas. May you live throughout this new year in the spirit of Twelfth Night, finding joy and happiness in what often seems a disordered world. In the words of William Shakespeare, who had a bit to say about this evening in Twelfth Night, (Act II, Scene 5):

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

The King Drinks                                           David Teniers, Flemish, ca. 1660-90


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