Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night was considered the ending of the Christmas season, and today we think of it as the time to take down the Christmas decorations, and nothing more, but in the past, it was a huge feast day, and surrounded by myths and customs. It was a time for one last fling with games, dressing up and plays, all managed by the Lord of Misrule. It was both a propitious and a dangerous time, standing between the holiday period and the return to work, between winter and the coming spring, between the Old and New Year.

Celebrations were held on Twelfth Night, bonfires lit, and special cakes were served. In Victorian England the shops were open late selling cakes decorated with stars, castles, lions, dragons, kings, knights, and serpents etc, painted onto white icing. The king and queen of the feast were chosen by a concealed ring on the cake, or a pea and bean hidden in the cake, as was the Lord of Misrule, who made the master wait on the servants in an echo of the Roman Saturnalia.  

Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day were traditional times for wassailing the apple trees.  A Twelfth Night ceremony described by Hugh Hughes in early nineteenth century Wales concerned the making of wassail with warm, spiced beer poured over baked apples and cakes, layered with sugar in a special twelve-handled wassail bowl.

Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day (6 January) was the time to finally expel the seasonal spirits of chaos and send them back to the underworld. At Brunnen in Switzerland boys went about in procession with torches and lanterns and made a great noise with horns, bells and whips to drive away the wood spirits. In Labruguière in southern France the inhabitants rushed through the streets, making a great uproar to scare away ghosts and devils. In parts of the eastern Alps the Berchtenlaufen Lads ran about with masks, cowbells, whips and all sorts of weapons, shouting wildly.

© Anna Franklin, extract from Yule, History, Lore and Celebration, Lear Books, 2010

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Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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