Best Night of Christmas.
No pressure to be perfect, in fact the very opposite – the decorations are falling down, the chocolates that you thought would last until Easter have all been eaten, there’s a bit of cake left and half a ham and other less identifiable things in the fridge that need using up. Nobody has to give anyone any presents or put on party frocks or not be naughty and everyone can let their waist bands out and relax.
In the Christian calendar 12th Night falls on Epiphany which, back in the day was as important as Christmas Day. In fact one half of the Church, either the Eastern or Western orthodoxy (I would need to look up which but I have things to do, so I’ll leave the looking up to you), celebrated Epiphany rather than Christmas Day. Then they decided to meet in the middle, celebrate both events and the days in between. Well, it was winter and there wasn’t much else going on.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson. The upshot is that by the time I was a kid, 12th Night had become a thing that Shakespeare wrote about and, in the West Country where I grew up, a thing before you packed Christmas away for another year.
Not that we did much other than eat up the left overs, play games and get the decorations down because Mum said it was unlucky to have them up.
I can’t remember when Ian and I started having 12th Night parties. Probably when our children were small and I found a recipe for a Twelfth Cake. I read about the Lords and Ladies of Misrule and decided we’d have some of that. Twelfth Night, is all about turning things on their head: the youngest member of a cathedral choir becomes bishop for the day. Yes I know that’s done on another date in Advent somewhere but folk traditions evolve thanks to people like me not paying attention to historical evidence. The important thing is that the servant becomes the served.
This turvytopsing is randomised with the Twelfth Cake, which includes a dried bean and/or a pea. Whoever finds the bean and/or pea (hopefully without breaking their teeth) becomes lord and/or lady of misrule. I can’t remember the whole decree (it’s in the attic) but if you’re Lord/Lady of Misrule, you get to shout ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye..’ in a very loud voice and command all locks be broken, especially those around the heart, and insist that everyone become as little children and have a jolly good time. I was Lady of Misrule for the Stroud Wassail once and I bloody loved it: strutting into all the pubs and round the streets with my retinue of mummers, wassailers and …others, demanding fun be had. The power.
Sadly, no public wassailing this year. And no 12th Night Party. But if we were having one, we would have gone to the local brewery and got a firkin of their finest, would have cooked the Twelfth Cake (mine’s a layer of shortcrust pastry, then almond paste, with bean and/or pea secreted, topped with puff pastry and decorated with crowns and is in fact called a King Cake and is French. We would have eaten all the Twelfth Cake already, because it’s what we now call a Christmas Cake).
We would have invited EVERYONE from near and far (finding beds, pitching tents and finding space for campervans round the village), put up tarps and lit firepits for the overflow of people, figured out how to feed everyone without plates (mail order pasties are just the best), told everyone to bring a party piece (musical instrument, joke, interesting talent), dug out my old Brunhilde helmet (no reason other than I like wearing it and the dress code is, ‘What You Will’- see that clever allusion to Shakespeare there?), and made some sort of playlist to fall back on.
From about midday, people would have started to arrive (mostly those from a long way who want first dibs on beds) and stuff would happen. Not sure what stuff, usually involved tapping the beer keg and baking potatoes and catching up with old friends I think.
Once most people had arrived, we would get the King Cake cut and the new Lord and/or Lady of Misrule, checked for broken teeth and then led to their throne and crowned. The decrees made, anyone that fancied entertaining the Lord and/or Lady of Misrule would do it, with songs and stories and displays of double jointed elbows and belly fluff as appropriate. Which all sounds rather orderly but it was not, because not everyone is into belly fluff. There’d be a whole lot of things going on in different rooms and bits of the garden. And every now and then wonderful things coming out of the kitchen or from the drinks shed. And the musicians would jam and there would be singing and dancing and re-enactments (St George and a dragon turned up once), other nonsense and, if there was room, games. Sadly we have never had enough room in this house for Slipper Olympics. Anyway, it would have all carried on until the last person fell down and then whoever made it to the morning would stabilize their stomach with a big bacon butty breakfast (veggie options available). And that would be our 12th Night.
This year will be quieter. Just us. Not much misruling then. But we do have the Obama Llamas game to play and several bottles of mead. And I’ve just had an epiphany: we will have enough room to hold a Slipper Olympics!
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