Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Twelfth Night, aka "Women's Little Christmas"

Everyone has heard the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. When I was I kid, I liked the song but didn't get it. Christmas was only two days, Eve and Day. Except in New Orleans, where people never miss an opportunity to have a party, Americans haven't observed traditional Advent or full Christmas in a long time.

Once I had kids and became more religiously observant (and Episcopalian) I wanted to get back some of these traditions, a desire only heightened by our years in London. (The English observe the traditional seasons less than in the past but still more than we do.) This year, I finally figured out some "new"ways to observe Advent and the full Christmas season. There were a few bumps, but I'm generally pleased with the result and I will post about it all soon.

But this is my second year to observe the Twelfth Night with a little tradition stolen from Ireland. Historically, Twelfth Night festivals were a bit like opposite days from when you were a kid with lots of mischief thrown in. (English traditions. American Traditions: The Holiday that time Forgot. And, of course, NOLA continuing traditions.) The Irish one started out as basically a women's tea party (the little cake and sandwich kind) with the men left behind to do the housework and childcare. In the modern era, it has turned into a women's day, or night, out to celebrate the end of the busy Christmas season. I liked that idea. I liked it a lot.

Last year, about a dozen of my girlfriends and I gathered at a local pub to toast the Magi and the end of Christmas. (The Twelfth Night is when the three wise men arrived to meet Jesus, and in many nativity displays, they don't make get placed until January 5.) We had a lovely time. So I've called a meet again this year. Interestingly, there has been some confusion about the date. I have been known to leave either the time or the address off of email invitations, but this time the confusion isn't my fault. Historically, whether the Twelfth Night falls on the 5th or 6th depends on many factors. From the NOLA link above:

Epiphany celebrations are also known as “Twelfth Night” celebrations because January 6th is the “Twelfth Day of Christmas.” There is some confusion over whether Christmas Day is the “first day of Christmas” or Boxing Day (December 26th) is the “first day.” Another variation in the celebrations is whether or not Twelfth Night happens on the night of January 5th or 6th. This confusion results from the date convention of Medieval Europe where a “day” begins on the night before.
As the sun sets on January 6th and the rest of the world formally gets back to normal life, New Orleanians merely shift the focus of our celebrating. The Christmas season is over, and the Carnival season begins.
I went for simple. Christmas Day is day 1 of Christmas and the Twelfth Night is the evening of the 12th day which is January 5th.


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