Saturday, January 5, 2013

The 12th Day of Christmas . . . Twelfth Night

Today is the final day of the twelve days of Christmas . . .

This is the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as "Twelfth Night." The Epiphany celebrates the day the three Magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, completed their journey. They had travelled for many nights, following the Star of Bethlehem until finally it led them Christ. There they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their visit was the first revelation of Christ's divinity. (Matthew 2:1-19)

This event is celebrated in the 19th century carol, We Three Kings . . .

Shakespeare used this eve as the title for one of his plays, Twelfth Night.

Two of the customs passed down to us on Twelfth Night include drinking a medieval wassail of apples, ale and spices called "Lamb's Wool" and choosing a King and Queen for the eve's feast. The traditional method of choosing involved baking a cake with a dried pea in it, one for the men and one for the women. The man and woman so chosen are honorary king and queen of the feast to be "honored, obeyed, treated and addressed as royalty."

The custom of choosing Twelfthnight "royalty" is described in a poem by 17th century poet, Robert Herrick:

"Twelfth Night"

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool:
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing:
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

Happy 12th Night All. And for a more modern story of the magi - from the quill of Gerard Van Der Luen - see his retelling of The Gift Of The WalMagi

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