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Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

It’s hard to believe it’s 2019 already. Christmas came and went too fast, even though we are still in the Christmas season, at least for today. Most of the Christmas lights and decorations have been taken down around the neighborhood, but my tree stays up — at least until tomorrow.

I was interested in learning that January fifth or sixth could be considered Twelfth Night, the twelfth day of Christmas, depending on when you start the countdown. If Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas, then Twelfth Night appears on the fifth like it does tonight. If Boxing Day, or the feast of St. Stephen, occurs on 26 December, then Twelfth Night comes on the sixth. Mostly, however, it seems that if it’s celebrated, it’s usually on the night before Epiphany. The last night of Christmas becomes the last hurrah of the Christmas celebration and a bit of transition to the season of Epiphany.

Twelfth Night has been celebrated for hundreds of years. It was a celebration of food, wine, hijinks, and cake. The King cake, which is one of its names, is an old tradition. The cake is sometimes a rather dense one with fruit and molasses or treacle and honey among other things, or a lighter brioche-type that is frosted or drizzled with frosting. In either type, a bean is hidden, and sometimes a pea may be added.  The King cake is cut and served, and the man who finds the bean is considered King of the festival, or, in some traditions, the Lord of Misrule. The lady who discovers the pea is crowned Queen. The Twelfth Night royalty can suggest songs to sing, games to be played, hijinks to be performed, and the like. In a sense, it’s a little bit like Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. The King cake on Mardi Gras however usually contains a small figure of the Christ child. Still, both are evenings of merriment before the solemn feast of the Three Kings, or, in the case of Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

But why would Christians celebrate Twelfth Night? There’s certainly nothing about it in the Bible, per se, except we celebrate it in commemoration of the coming of the three wise men (or however many there were) to find the baby Jesus. We don’t know precisely when the wise men came, how many there were, or even where they found the family. Still, like Christmas, somewhere between the evening before Christmas or Epiphany and the next evening, something happened that is cause for celebration.

I think that perhaps Twelfth Night is something to remind us to have fun. Just because Christmas is coming to an end, the Christmas season anyway, isn’t a reason to be gloomy, dour, or unhappy. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the company of family and friends, and to do things together, creating laughter and joy, even though it’s time for the greens and the trees to come down and to begin the new year.

Many people become somewhat depressed this time of year. There’s still a lot of darkness, and, coming home from work or basketball practice at school or evening events, it’s dark out, and quite often cold. That’s hard on people, especially people who suffer from a condition that makes life difficult because of the darkness. I know it at least two people who have this condition, and even after days and days of sunshine in Arizona, a partly cloudy morning will render them gloomy and out-of-sorts.

For some of us there is another form of depression, sometimes so deep it makes it almost impossible to do anything. For others, it requires effort to get through the day normally. Situational depression at this time of year can be caused by the loss of family members or loved ones who seem to have made it through the Christmas season but who just drifted away after the new year. It’s as if they wanted one more celebration, one more family get together, and then they could go in peace.


Twelfth Night is the last hurrah of Christmas. That’s not to say we can’t carry Christmas with us all year. It would be lovely if we could or would. It would be lovely if we thought about those two suffer through the remains of winter and into spring from whatever cause. It would be lovely if we remembered to donate regularly to food banks and charities that often are deluged at Christmas but forgotten for most of the rest of the year. People are homeless, hungry, sick, and hopeless all year round. The Twelfth Night should remind us that there’s joy in giving, just as surely as we are reminded of the gifts of the wise men tomorrow as we celebrate.

I think tonight I may not have the King cake. I doubt if the cats would fall into playing games or getting into any organized shenanigans (they are quite capable of thinking up things on their own, it seems), or even wine drinking and feasting. But still, even though the tree with its colored lights may come down tomorrow, there’s this evening to enjoy the glitter and glow, and the knowledge that for one more night, it’s still Christmas.

Happy Twelfth Night. Enjoy!

God bless.


Image: Twelfth Night Merry-Making in Farmer Shakeshaft’s Barn”, from Ainsworth‘s Mervyn Clitheroe, by Phiz. Found at Wikimedia Commons.


Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.


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Tessibel Gorham-Wilkinson

I really enjoyed reading this i wasnt even aware of the 12 days of Christmas thank you…….AMEN

William Veinot

This was a delight to read. I like the thought of the 12th Night as an opportunity to have “fun.” My wife died last year, far too young, a heartbreaking loss. But after a long, long , four year ordeal with cancer; then eight months of grief work, fun seems like a worthy goal for the new year. Thank the Good Lord I’m an Episcopalian, because they are not averse to JOY, the emotion scripture tells us the Magi experienced when they encountered the Christ. A full of measure JOY to all this new year of 2019.

Judith Carroll

As a child, my family celebrated the full 12 days of Christmas. Our tree “went up” on the 21st or 22nd so that it would maintain it’s needles until Jan 6th. I continued this with my daughters. At 3 and 4 yrs old, they would cry because the Christmas tree and all our lights and decorations would be put away, until I made 12th night a celebration. We’d light all our candles, and Advent wreath at our festive table. They would have a small 12th night gift at their plate. Supper was fresh baked bread, usually homemade soup and whatever Xmas cookies we had left. We would let our candles burn down to nubs. It is one of my favorite memories.

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