Thursday, January 10, 2013
Many, many traditions cluster around the time of winter solstice. Perhaps as a final wrap-up, our spiritual forebears enjoyed twelfth night, as a summation and a farewell to the indoor festivities occasioned by cold weather and short daylight hours.
As with so many other pre-Christian pactices, the Christian church stole the celebrations held on the twelfth night after solstice, and turned them into something it called "the Epiphany". The first confusion that arises stems from the awkward fact that twelfth night is supposed to occur on the evening of January 5, ahead of the twelfth day which fell on January 6 because days officially began at sunset in those times.
Of course, as with many stolen festivals, this one predates Christianity by thousands of years. It stems originally from an adjustment of the Egyptian calendar, as noted in the Rhind mathematical Papyrus:
The world is out of joint. The gods have given us five extra days, and they should be used
for rest and revelry.
In many parts of old Europe this prompted a Saturnalia-type holiday with a Lord of Misrule, when aristocrats served the servants; where possible, all normal pursuits were reversed or let slide. The Christmas decorations were always taken down by the Lord and the Lady of Misrule, and any food in them was eaten at the twelfth night feast. This would normally include such things as nuts, apples, and dried fruits. In many places circular (ring-shaped) cakes were baked. In Spain, for example, such a cake was called the "king's ring" to signify the turning of the wheel of the year. Or for all we know, maybe it was properly "kings' ring" as in three kings. The cake would contain a dried bean and a pea. The persons who got these pieces would be designated King and Queen for the following year.
Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night", written to be performed on twelfth night (surprise), has a special flavor of the fun and games and misrule that were common practice in his day.
How come we no longer have revels and enjoyment of this sort? Even the pagan groups don't seem to trouble themselves with innocent revelry of this sort. We Frosts think this is a very sad commentary on today's materialistic, shallow world with its disregard for traditions.