New Year's Eve is typically a big party night. Last year we had a couple close friends over and just ate a bunch of good food, went in our hot-tub and drank some champagne. It was really nice to not have to deal with crowds and to be able to enjoy the evening together. And to gorge ourselves. I am not condoning gorging yourselves, but we have been planning tonight's dinner for a while. It's worth it.
But New Year's Eve does not have to be the last big hurrah of the holiday season. January 6, which is just around the corner, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas (also known as Epiphany). So Sunday January 5 is Twelfth Night.
In medieval times, Twelfth Night was celebrated with grand balls and village parties, complete with Twelfth Night cakes with a bean or trinket hidden inside to choose the "king" to preside over the night's revelries.
In Elizabethan times, a temporary Lord of Misrule presided over the season's revelries while the nobility acted as servants - a world deliberately turned upside down for a night. You could try crowning a Lord of Misrule at your Twelfth Night Party, or you could just have a nice afternoon or evening where you open your house up to friends and family to come together one last time for the holidays.
If you do want to try hosting a Twelfth Night party, I have included here a couple of traditional recipes you might want to serve your guests.
In old English and French Twelfth Night celebrations, a cake would be baked to celebrate Epiphany. In both English and French traditions, an bean and a pea would be baked in to the cake, and whoever got the piece with the pea and the bean, would be the king and queen of the night. To read more about twelfth-cake (also called King's Cake) see Wikipedia.
The French Twelfth Night Cake (Gateau des Rois - King's Cake) is more like a rich bread, due to the high number of eggs, and the relatively low amount of sugar. It goes great with a cup of coffee for breakfast, too! The recipe, which you can find here is not complicated, but it does take just about all day to make the cake - with hours of downtime.
The English version of Twelfth Cake is very different from the French version. This cake is more cake-like and contains some lovely rum-soaked fruit. You can find the English Twelfth Cake recipe here.
Wassailing was an old country tradition that took place on Twelfth Night or "Old Christmas Eve," especially in areas where cider apples were grown. Right before dark the wassail (spiced ale or hard cider topped with roasted apples) would be prepared and ladled into the special wassail bowl (similar to a punch bowl with handles). The village would gather at the orchard after dark with the wassail on hand and proceed to bang pots, shoot off guns, and make a racket to frighten away any evil spirits that could still be lurking about on this last night of Christmas. This commotion would also help to begin to "wake up" the trees from their winter hibernation. The trees were blessed with thanks and urged with rhyming chants to produce an even better crop in the new year. The oldest, most venerable tree's health would be "toasted" with a piece of wassail-soaked bread or cake placed in its branches.
If wassail was left over after regaling the trees, then the ceremonies would conclude with the villagers quenching their own thirst before returning home. In some areas, the young people would go from house to house in the village, singing wassail songs and receiving small gifts or treats in return.
Wassail is an old Middle English contraction of waes hael, meaning "be health" or "be whole," that was derived from the old Norse ves heill "to be healthy." The reply to waes hael was drinc hael, or "drink and be healthy." The modern expression "hale and hearty" shares the same roots.
You can find a lovely recipe for wassail here.