Twelfth Night is the really the trifecta of holidays as it sits at the convergence of Christmas, the Epiphany and the Winter Solstice. Though originally rooted in pagan fertility rites, the annual practice of an extended Winter Solstice festival of feasting, family gatherings and public gaiety was later grafted into the emerging Christian culture of Europe. Burning the Yule Log during the twelve days was a part of this and continued in colonial times. Clearly a throwback to the pagan holidays of the Roman Saturnalia and the Celtic pagan traditions, I believe Twelfth Night manifests the human condition - one which necessarily embraces the new (Christianity) while holding onto nostalgic vestiges of the old (pagan and Celtic).
|Colonial era Twelfth Night cake|
The Twelfth Night was celebrated hugely in colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia, and the Delaware Valley. George and Martha Washington celebrated Twelfth Night as a day long event with lots of friends and family in attendance. Some of the events that took place variously were the famed costume ball where the high born dressed low and low born dressed high and where men could dress as women and women dress as men. In Philadelphia the upper classes (mostly staid Quakers) simply dressed in finery and listened to chamber music while feasting, but in many places the more raucous aspects of the old pagan traditions included all kinds of drinking and carrying on. Sometimes special cakes or breads were baked with a hidden bean or a metal cast figure of the infant Jesus. Whoever was served the piece of cake or bread with the hidden token became the King of Queen of the Twelfth Night Ball.
|Twelfth Night Reenacted at Colonial Williamsburg|
|The Wassail Bowl|
|Typical Twelfth Night spread|
during colonial times
|George and Martha years after their nuptials|