Fact of the Day: Twelfth Night
In the West the evening preceding Epiphany is called 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). It is also called Twelfth Day Eve.
This twelfth night of the twelve days of Christmas is the official end of the winter holiday season and one of the traditional days for taking down the Christmas decorations. This is also a traditional day for wassailing apple trees. In southern and western England, revelers gathered in orchards where they sang to the trees, drank to their health, poured hot cider over their roots, left cider-soaked toast in their branches for the birds and scared away evil spirits with a great shout and the firing of guns.
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 (click here for the recipe for this flatbread) rather than a cake: three white beans for the Magi and one black one.
Whoever found the black bean was made king and could choose his queen and rule the banquet. In colonial Virginia, a great Ball was held on this night. The King wins the honor of sponsoring the Ball the following year; the Queen the privilege of making next year’s Twelfth Night Cake.
E*piph”a*ny (?), n. [F. épiphanie, L. epiphania, Gr. (sc. ), for appearance, fr. to show forth; + to show. See Fancy.]
1. An appearance, or a becoming manifest.
Whom but just before they beheld transfigured and in a glorious epiphany upon the mount. Jeremy. Taylor, English Religious Poet
2. (Eccl.) A church festival celebrated on the 6th of January, the twelfth day after Christmas, in commemoration of the visit of the Magi of the East to Bethlehem, to see and worship the child Jesus; or, as others maintain, to commemorate the appearance of the star to the Magi, symbolizing the manifestation of Christ to the Gentles; Twelfthtide.