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St. Distaff's Day or Plough Monday

As I discussed in this blog post the Twelve Days of Christmas represented a time of rest and relaxation for workers. The down-side to the prohibition on work was that everything had to be done before Christmas Day, but the upside was that for twelve wonderful days, families got to spend time together and focus on resting and staying warm by the fire.

Sadly, now that the Twelve Days of Christmas are over, it is time to get back to normal. So on this St. Distaff's Day (or Plough Monday, as it would be called for the men) it is time to take down the ornaments and lights off the tree, wrap up the nativity figures and take the lights off the house so they can all be stored away in the attic again to come out later this year. Sometimes it feels good to get things back to "normal," but I for one always miss all the twinkling lights and sentimental decorations. Let the countdown beging to December 25, 2013!

Epiphany or Woman's Christmas

January 6 is Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, Old Christmas, or my personal favorite - Woman's Christmas. The time between Christmas Day (December 25) - celebrated by many as the day of Jesus' birth, and Epiphany (January 6) is believed to represent the time that it took the Three Wise Men (or the Three Kings or the Three Magi) to travel to Baby Jesus. Some faiths celebrate January 6 as the day on which Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. In Ireland, Januar 6 is still celebrated as Woman's Christmas - a day when men take over the housework and women celebrate the close of the Christmas season by either going out together, or staying in and being served by the men.

In cultures that celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas Season. Believe it or not, there are some cultures where the Christmas celebration lasts until February 2 - this celebration is called Candlemas.

Epiphany is another gift-giving day, and king cakes are eaten to celebrate the close of the Christmas season. Other cultures' celebrations of Epiphany center around water - involving baptismal rights and house blessings.

However you celebrate on January 6, I hope you savor this last day of Christmas, before going back to a normal routine and taking down your Christmas tree and decorations and lovingly storing them away for next year!

Adoration of the Magi, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 17th Century

Twelfth Night

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

Happy New Year to You!

January 1 represents many things: the first day of the new year, the Seventh Day of Christmas (just past the halfway mark for the Twelve Days of Christmas), St. Basil's Day and the Feast of Fools. Whatever January 1 means to you and your family, I hope you have a great day, and a very happy 2013!

St. Basil's Day

In some other countries, including Greece, New Years Day is a day of gift giving. Greece also celebrates St. Basil's Day on New Years Day, and some families even bake a special cake (St. Basil's Bread) and practice traditions designed to ensure good luck in the coming year. To learn more about St. Basil, and how he is celebrated, please go here.



St. Basil

Feast of Fools

In the Middle Ages in parts of Europe, the Feast of Fools was held on or around January 1. The basic idea was to turn regular order on its head - a fake bishop or pope would be elected amongst the feast attendees to act as "Lord of Misrule", and the attendees with low and high positions switched places. Many believe that the Feast of Fools was a Christian adaptation of Pagan Saturnalia festivities. The event was somewhat of a social revolution, if only for a night.

The Feast of Fools, Bruegel

The First Day of Christmas

In different parts of the world, the First Day of Christmas, December 26, is known as St. Stephen's Day, the Day of the Wren, or Boxing Day.


St. Stephen's Day or the Day of the Wren

December 26th is a day devoted to remembrance of the Christian martyr, St. Stephen. In countries where St. Stephen is still celebrated, people devote the day to spending time with friends and family.

St. Stephen is believed by many to be the first Christian martyr - he was stoned to death sometime around 33 CE.

St. Stephen's Day has been a holiday in Ireland for hundreds of years, where it is known as The Day of the Wren, and is still a public holiday today. The wren is related to St. Stephan because of stories that a wren betrayed St. Stephen's presence while he was hiding from his enemies.

Boxing Day

As was discussed in this blog post, in the Middle Ages the First Day of Christmas was a day when earthenware boxes full of coins were distributed to servants. Churches also circulated donation boxes amonts the congregation during Advent, and those boxes and their contents were distributed amongst the poor on the day after Christmas.

Several countries still celebrate Boxing Day - including Scotland, Ireland, Australia and Canada. In some Canadian provinces Boxing Day is a statutory holiday when all workers are given a mandatory day off with full pay. In the countries that still celebrate Boxing Day, it is much like the day after Thanksgiving in the United States - a huge shopping day. Which is really kind of ironic given the historical bases for the holiday.





Beggars Receiving Alms at the Door of a House, 1658, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

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