Thursday, 29 December 2016

Bring Back Twelfth Night!

I hope you have had a lovely Yuletide and are enjoying your holiday.
     I know that a lot of people will have had to go back to work already, that is one of the drawback's of industrialisation - factories work continually, so people have to work continually to keep them going. And because they are working, they expect services to be working too. And everyone has to buy stuff, so shops have to be open.
    And, of course, there are some things that need continual attention - you can't stop looking after children, the elderly or animals, they still want caring for and feeding. Police, ambulances, medical staff and fire services etc will always have to be ready to leap into action as and when necessary.
     However I still feel that it is a shame that the tradition of the twelve days of christmas is largely forgotten, and instead we really have the two days of christmas and then everyone can't wait to start ripping down their decorations and getting 'back to normal'.
     We all know the song The Twelve Days of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree

    Even if we are not always entirely sure just how many Lords-a-leaping or Swans-a-swimming were given on which day.
     Incidentally when I worked for the Straven Knitwear factory in Alford (Lincolnshire) many years ago, my Christmas party piece involved the local Louth Standard newspaper. I would open the paper at the classified adverts pages and give a rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas based on items from that section.So you might get:
Twelve bales of hay,
Eleven ladies stockings,
Ten tractor seats,
Nine best meat pies,
Eight trays of eggs,
Seven brace of pheasants,
and so on .... A modern version could make use of Google Adverts.
     The midwinter festival was always a celebration that went on over an extended period of days.
     The Romans had Saturnalia which went from the 17th to the 23rd of December then ran into further celebrations including Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun on the 25th.
     This evolved into our Twelve Days of Christmas - although there is some dispute whether these start with Christmas day, or with Christmas Eve, or even with Boxing Day. But it is generally thought that Twelfth Night will cover the evening of the 5th of January, the eve of Epiphany when the Wise Men took gifts to the infant Jesus. And in Italy that is the night when Befana flies through the skies on her broomstick, delivering gifts to every child.
      Midwinter in a farming community is a time when there is minimal work to do on the land. The harvest has been gathered in and there is a glut of meat and stored fruit and veg - some of which might be showing signs of going off. So rather than sling it out, make the most of it with a time of extended feasting - there is a lot of meat on a single animal, pig, sheep or cow, enough to feed a whole community. So why not have a feast and invite all the neighbours in.
     Of course it is a myth that everyone was on holiday and that no-one was doing any work. Who was doing the cooking? The serving? The washing up? The preparations for the next feast?
     And of course the animals still needed feeding and cleaning out and milking, even if they were in stables and fields near the home, rather than out on the hills.
     In Victorian times (and into the 20th century) butchers and bakers would be open and busy on christmas day. In 'A Christmas Carol' by Dickens, on christmas morning Scrooge instructs a boy to go and buy a large turkey from the butcher to send to Bob Cratchett and his family. And the bakers were open to produce the daily bread and also their ovens were often where families would take their christmas poultry to be cooked.
     But it was still twelve days when fun, feasting and friendship were emphasised. Culminating in the last great feast on Twelvth Night itself.
     As this was the last day of this mega-festival, Twelfth Night was the climax of the festival, and a night when all inhibitions were cast aside. Masters and servants exchanged places. The ruler of the feast was chosen by whoever found a special token (usually a bean) in the Twelfth Night Cake. And whatever orders were given by the King and Queen of Twelfth Night, would be carried out with great laughter.
     So maybe the twelve days of mid-winter sloth is a myth.
     But how on earth have we managed to forget a great excuse for a party?!
     Bring back Twelfth Night! says I.

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