The 12 days of Christmas are now more famous as a song about someone who receives many gifts of his “true love”. However, to get to the song, there had to be days to start!
The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and last until the evening of January 5, also known as Twelfth Night. The 12 days have been celebrated in Europe since before the Middle Ages and were a time of celebration.
The 12 days, each traditionally celebrates a party for a saint and / or have different celebrations:
- Day 1 (December 25): Christmas day – celebrating the birth of Jesus
- Day 2 (December 26, also known as Boxing Day): San Esteban Day. He was the first Christian martyr (someone who dies for his faith). It is also the day on which the Christmas carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ takes place.
- Day 3 (December 27): Saint John the Apostle (one of the disciples and friends of Jesus)
- Day 4 (December 28): The Feast of the Holy Innocents: when people remember the children that King Herod killed when he was trying to find and kill the Child Jesus.
- Day 5 (December 29): St. Thomas Becket. He was archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century and was assassinated on December 29, 1170 for challenging the King’s authority over the Church.
- Day 6 (December 30): Saint Egwin of Worcester.
- Day 7 (December 31): New Year’s Eve (known as Hogmanay in Scotland). Pope Sylvester I is traditionally celebrated on this day. He was one of the first popes (in the fourth century). In many Central and Eastern European countries (including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Slovenia), the New Year’s Eve is still called ” Silvester. ” In the United Kingdom, New Year’s Eve was a traditional day for “games” and sports competitions. Archery was a very popular sport and during the Middle Ages it was the law that all men had to practice it between the ages of 17-60 on the Sunday after the Church! This was so that the King had many very good archers ready in case he had to go to war!
- Day 8 (January 1): January 1 – Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
- Day 9 (January 2): Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, two important Christians of the 4th century.
- Day 10 (January 3): Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This recalls when Jesus was officially ‘appointed’ in the Jewish temple. It is celebrated by different churches on a large number of different dates!
- Day 11 (January 4): Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, who lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the past, he also celebrated the festival of San Simón Estilitas (who lives on a small platform on the top of a pillar for 37 years!).
- Day 12 (January 5, also known as Epiphany Eve): St. John Neumann, who was the first bishop in America. He lived in the nineteenth century.
Twelfth night was a great moment of celebration with people celebrating big parties. During these festivals, the roles in society were often reversed and the servants were served by the rich. This goes back to medieval times and Tudor, when the Night of the Twelve, marked the end of “winter”, which began on October 31 with All Hallows Eve (Halloween).
At the beginning of the Twelfth Night, he ate the Twelfth Night cake. This was a rich cake made with eggs and butter, fruits, nuts and spices. The modern Italian panettone is the cake we have today, like the old Twelfth Night cake.
A pea or dry bean was cooked on the cake. Who found it, was the Lord (or Lady) of Misrule at night. The Lord of Misrule led the celebrations and was dressed as a King (or Queen). This tradition goes back to the Roman celebrations of Saturnalia. In later times, from the Georgian period on, to make the Twelfth Night “gentle”, two pieces were placed on the cake (one for a man and one for a woman) and who found them became the ‘ King ‘and’ Queen ‘of the twelfth night party.
In the English cathedrals, during the Middle Ages, it was the custom of the “Bishop Child”, where a child from the cathedral or monastery school was elected as Bishop on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day) and had the authority of a Bishop (except for mass) until December 28. King Henry VIII prohibited the practice in 1542, although he returned briefly to Mary I in 1552, but Elizabeth eventually stopped her during her reign.
During the Twelfth Night it was traditional to play different types of pipes, especially bagpipes. Many games were played, including eggs. This includes throwing an egg between two people who are separated more in each release: release it and lose; and passing an egg for the spoons. Another popular game was ‘snapdragon’, in which you collected raisins or other dried fruit from a burning brandy tray.
The first Monday after the Christmas party ended was known as “Plow on Monday,” since it was when agricultural work would begin again.
In many parts of the United Kingdom, people also went to Wassailing on Twelfth Night.
The twelfth night is also known as Eva’s epiphany. In many countries it is traditional to put the figures of the Magi / Magi in the scene of the Nativity in the Epiphany, Eva prepared to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6.
It is also traditional to lower your Christmas decorations after Twelfth Night.
Twelfth night is also the name of a famous work written by William Shakespeare. It was thought to be written in 1601/1602 and was first made at Candlemas in 1602, although it was not published until 1623.