It has long been a tradition in British homes to take down Christmas decorations on what is known as Twelfth Night. In days of yore, the twelve days of Christmas were a time of celebration, feasting and a having a jolly good time with family, friends, neighbours and the girl from down the lane. The first day was the one following Christmas day which was of course a Holy day and reserved for prayer and contemplation.
Quite how the tradition of taking down the decorations on twelfth night to avoid bad luck came about is not altogether clear. I know that at one time, the adornments consisted purely of holly, ivy and other assorted greenery including mistletoe which was said by the druids to bring prosperity and fertility into the home. Nowadays of course, it’s used as an excuse to kiss a fair maid, who under normal circumstances would run a mile! I digress! It was thought that naughty tree spirits hid in the greenery and if it wasn’t thrown out on twelfth night disaster would strike, your crops would fail and you wouldn’t get your oats! In Victorian times decorations were taken down a burnt.
Twelfth Night itself was when folk would play practical jokes on one another whilst getting squiffy on an alcoholic punch concoction known as Wassail from the ancient term ‘waes hael’, meaning ‘be well’. A regular caper would hand over a pie containing a live bird. In the words of the nursery rhyme, ‘when the pie was opened the birds began to sing’ They also gave away fruit cakes, and again those impish pranksters hid stuff inside. There were all sorts items concealed in the mixture; if you bit on a clove you were said to be a villain, if you chewed a twig you were a fool, and if a girl bit on a piece of rag she was said to be a woman of ill repute! Also throughout the twelve days, a yule log would be kept burning. Nowadays a yule log is a cylindrical cake covered in chocolate with a plastic robin perched on top!
Something that still causes confusion and disagreement is when Twelfth Night actually occurs. Because today we consider a new day to begin at midnight, Twelfth Night would logically occur on the night of the twelfth day i.e. January 6th. But to our ancient ancestors the day was considered to be ended when the sun went down, so therefore the night of the January 5th was their Twelfth Night. In other words for us today the night or evening follows the day whereas to our ancient ancestors, it was the other way round.I’m not sure I explained that properly because I’m having trouble getting my head around it myself, but be assured that as prescribed in times gone by, tonight is officially Twelfth Night.
So with that in mind I’ll now repair to my living room and start the annual task of packing away my tree and adornments! Whilst I’m passed worrying about fertility, I certainly don’t want any other forms of bad luck to come my way! Happy Twelfth Night!
Where shall I start? I know - I'll pour a large whisky!