If you have been celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas, then you probably know that tomorrow, January 6, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas (also known as Epiphany). That makes tonight Twelfth Night (or Eve of Epiphany, also known as Old Christmas Eve). If you are familiar with the Twelve Days of Christmas carol, and can remember all of the gift bestowed upon the singer, you might get the idea that by the Twelfth Day of Christmas the singer's house is overrun with birds, musicians and household help. Well, that would make sense if you celebrated Twelfth Night - the culmination of the Christmas season's festivities.
In medieval times, Twelfth Night was celebrated with grand balls and village parties, complete with Twelfth Night cakes (whether it be a French version, or an English one), with a bean or trinket hidden inside to choose the "king" to preside over the night's revelries.
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will is believed to have premiered on January 6, 1601. 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 short time. Social conventions were often broken at Twelfth Night parties where it was "anything goes" or, in other words, "What You Will." The title alludes to the festival atmosphere of the play and the plot involving illusions, mistaken identity, masquerades, jealousy, and of course, love.
Whatever the Twelfth Night of Christmas holds for you, I hope that it is warm and joyful, and helps you look forward to the next Christmas Season!
Twelfth-Night (The King Drinks), 1634-40, by David Teniers the Younger