Thursday, January 05, 2006

Twelfth Night Eve

Out here in the West the evening preceding Epiphany is Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night marks the end of medieval Christmas festivities and the end of Twelfthtide (the 12-day season after Christmas ending with Epiphany). This twelfth night of the 12 Days of Xmas is the official end of the Winter Holiday Season and one of the traditional days for taking down the Christmas decorations. This is what my wife if doing right now. This year, many of the school districts delayed Xmas Vacation until the 23rd in order to have until the 6th off (tomorrow). Most of those kids went to Disneyland yesterday.

It is also a traditional day for "wassailing apple trees" in southern and western England. I wonder if this is also done here in Oak Glen, our local apple orchards. Revelers gather in orchards where they sing to the trees, drink to their health, pour hot cider over their roots and leave cider-soaked pieces of toast in their branches for the birds. They scare away "evil spirits" with great shouts and the firing of guns. What about those "hard cider spirits"?

The ancient Roman tradition of choosing the master of the Saturnalian Revels by baking a "good-luck bean" inside a cake was transferred to Twelfth Night. In Italy, the beans were hidden in focaccia rather than a cake; three white beans for the Magi and one black. Whoever found the black one was made king and could choose his queen and rule the banquet. In Sweden (and our family) an almond in hidden in the rice pudding for the lucky finder. They would "get married" or have a "new love" within the year. In colonial Virginia, a great Ball was held on this night. The king gets the "honor" of sponsoring the ball the following year; the queen the privilege of making next year's "Twelfth Night Cake". This must've been a real "slow" time of the year and "indoor sports" were favored.

So, Christmas celebrations have an exuberant encore. Jan. 6th, formally called Epiphany is the Day of the Three Kings or Three Wisemen. In Hispanic cultures it is El Dia de Los Tre Magis (I think) Hallmark introduced Spanish Language Three Kings Day Cards in the U.S. in 1998. It is also the name of a famous Shakespearean comedy: "Twelfth Night". Few people outside of what used to be New Orleans may be aware that T.N. is the first day of the celebration that ends in Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) preceding "Ash Wednesday" and Lent. I guess there are plans to have all this again in New Orleans and just have the parades etc. on different streets that are still there. There is one parade, by invitation only, called "Phunny Phorty Phellows Streetcar" ride. More than 40 "fellows" (girls too) pack a streetcar and pass around the traditional King Cakes, a sweet bread with a baby figurine baked inside. (watch out...oh my bridge work!) We love sweetbread with cardamom it.

Three Kings Day has one of its biggest celebrations in a small town in Puerto Rico call Juana Diaz about 70 miles from San Juan. The city almost doubles its population with reveler who asked to dress as shepherd or the wisemen: Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar. You can hire out these "wisemen" to places like Brooklyn, N.Y. for their Three Kings Day parade, Miami puts theirs off until the 15th, with Lilo and Stitch invited and Shaq as the grand marshall. San Juan Pueblo and Taos N. Mex. has honoree animals and performers clad in deer hides or buffalo heads.

So, I guess you can see how far "afield" these "traditional celebrations" go. It isn't just the "Fiddlers on the Roof" that have "TRADITIONS" !!! We all seem to love having them as "points of identity" and "caring about each other" Something to pass on. Bob


At 12:52 PM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

I was told today, Enero Seis, that Hoy es el dia de Los Tre Reyes not Magis...OK? Sorry, Bob

At 6:57 AM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

Today, Jan. 7th is traditionally "Distaff Day" in Europe. European women went back to doing housework after the 12 days of Christmas...the "distaff was a symbol of "woman's work" - it's used for spinning. I wonder what it looks like? Any suggestions? Women? Now, be careful...keep it clean. As if they weren't working all during Christmas. And what is "woman's work" anyway? Are European women all that different? Uh oh, now I'm in for it...Bob


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