The Wheel Turns to: Twelfth Night

_cheri02-03I have debated whether I should write an article about Twelfth Night.  There is very little to be found about it anywhere that is of a Pagan bent rather than a lesser known Christian holiday relating to the Epiphany.

However, I have, in my own way celebrated Twelfth Night for a many years.  And perhaps, a lot of you have too.  To my mind, Twelfth Night has, in some ways been taken over by our modern celebration of New Year’s Eve.  If you count twelve nights from the eve of the winter solstice, you arrive on or around New Year’s.

In Britain, Twelfth Night is a part of the twelve days of Christmas celebrations, and is presided over by the Lord of Misrule.  Traditionally, this meant that the servants and serfs would rule and the nobility would become the peasantry until the clock struck twelve and the world went back to the way it normally was.

The Lord and Lady of Misrule were chosen through the sharing of a bean cake.  A circular cake was baked, and inside were hidden a bean and a pea.  Whoever found the bean or pea in their slice of cake became king or queen for the night.

As Twelfth Night isn’t a widely celebrated holiday any more, customs and decorations require a bit more creativity.  Wreaths and fruit (which is always precious in the depth of winter) are traditional, as are most other Yuletide decorations that will already be adoring your home.

If you are planning a New Year’s/Twelfth Night party, I think that garish and sparkly is the best way to embrace the spirit of the celebration.  Tinsel, streamers, banners, you name it – the shinier, the better.

English: tortell de reis, a Catalan pastry Cat...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Western society has long passed out of the system of lords and peasantry, so for a modern Twelfth Night celebration, take a page from the mummers play book and dress as whatever opposite you can think of.  Make use of old, ratty clothes, hats and shoes – anything that you won’t cry over if it gets wrecked after a night of feasting and merrymaking.

Speaking of feasting, be sure to brew up lots of wassail for your festivities and serve up the traditional Twelfth cake to choose the Lord and Lady of Misrule. Other sweet cakes and pastries made with fresh and preserved fruit are also traditional Twelfth Night fare.

In some Wheel of the Year stories, the Yule sabbat is said to be the night when the Goddess gives birth to the God.  The feast of Twelfth Night is then said to be the time of his naming ceremony.  Those who subscribe to this mythos might set aside a piece of cake or pastry for the newborn God, and present it in offering to a wild place before the night is through.

Magical workings this night could include a New Year’s divination, a spell/ritual for self-improvement, or the creation of blessing/protection talismans to keep (or give away) through the year.  Think out with the old and in with the new.

Enjoy your New Year/Twelfth Night celebrations, everyone!  And even if your plans are for a more quiet observance, be sure to engage in some soul soothing silliness to round out your winter holidays.

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4 thoughts on “The Wheel Turns to: Twelfth Night”

  1. A much neglected celebration now, both in the pagan and secular calendar. So many of it’s customs have been divided over Christmas and New Year festivities. This is a shame! We are losing the opportunity to celebrate a real conclusion to the end of the midwinter/Christmas period,

    1. I agree. The end of the holidays at my house always culminates in a BIG house clean. I love the holidays, but it feels great to have everything move back to normal in one fell swoop.

  2. Interesting information. I have only heard the term “twelfth night” and never knew what it was about. Thank you for sharing this at Pagan Blog Prompts.

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