Friday, January 6, 2012

Merry Twelfth Night, everyone!

Here I am, being "Five Gold Rings"
Twelfth Night is a recently Christianized holiday that Christians call Epiphany. But its roots go back far longer than the birth of Christ. Saturnalia was the main influence for this fun holiday, where the world turns topsy-turvy: masters become servants, children boss adults around, and people cross-dress and have a grand old time.

In teaching Sunday school about this day at my local UU church, it was appropriate that the youth and kids performed the 12 Days of Christmas (another co-opted tradition- it was a pub drinking game played on Twelfth Night) and many of the teens cross dressed.

Getting that lipstick just right.
This holiday was co-opted by Christians seeking to get rid of those (super fun, in my opinion) insidious persistent and well-loved pagan celebrations- like Yule (lights, feasts, gift exchanges, and the Yule log) becoming Christmas, Samhain (the dead and other "spooky" subjects) becoming Halloween and Ostara (fertile rabbits and eggs) becoming Easter. Unlike the other holidays, many of the pagan traditions have not carried over to Twelfth Night, and I think that's a shame.

In a time honored pagan tradition, our
"maid a milking" feels up our
"lady dancing"!
I cannot remember what book it was, but I remember reading a Witchcraft book about a decade ago in which the author proposed that we include Twelfth Night as a ninth sabbat in the Wheel of the Year. After all, nine is a much more magical number than eight, and this holiday gets at the issue of difference, class, and society in a way that none of the others do. I have to say I agree with that author (can anyone here help me out so I can give credit where credit is due? Anyone remember the book or author?)

So, what's a Witch to do on this day? Invite folks over for a raucous party, of course! Bake a cake with a bean or token in it (I have a tiny Dionysos ceramic figure from Italy that is meant to be baked into cakes- I find it perfect!) and that person rules over the party and makes rules for everyone else! The Lord of Misrule is an English spin on this age-old Saturnalian tradition- a person is chosen at random and rules over the entire community for a day. The crazier the social order that they created, the better job that they did!


  1. Two years ago we had a Twelfth Night Celebration at my UU Fellowship ( Thankfully, the UUs are up for nearly anything!) We needed a day to be wild-to let go, be crazy, turn things upside down-and yet do this in a safe, positive manner where everyone understands it all in good fun. For me, that holiday used to be Halloween until it began to be co-opted into something violent and bloody( I celebrate Samhain and Halloween separately, much like the religious and secular forms of Christmas where there is a deeply religious meaning and the merriment of Santa). I still love Halloween because of the mystery and joy for children, but for several years now I've been considering Twelfth Night as an alternative.Growing up near Philadelphia, I have learned to adore mummery and everything that surrounds it. Misrule as a time out side of time gives us a break from the mundane, a period to recharge before settling back into everyday life. Kudos to you, Witch Mom!

  2. Wonderful! Topsy turvy reminds us we're all the same - let's not take ourselves too seriously! :-)

  3. I learned something new today. Who says you can teach an old dogs a new trick? I had never heard of Twelfth Night before and plan to investigate it further.

    Off topic, you have been tagged. Head to to see what this is about.

  4. YOu seem to have had a lot of FUN! ANd that is good in my book...

    ...and you've had your hair cut. Still very pretty (but I miss the long red locks).

  5. We did have fun, ya'll. Some Witches (myself included) consider Twelfth Night the 9th sabbat and I intend on raising my son that way.

    Fedelynn: I loved my red hair too- but I also love my silver hair- I was surprised to learn that my hair is mostly silver! I will continue to add some red, mainly in the bangs!


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