Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Forgotten Customs - 12th Night

Things to do tonight:
Move the 3 Magi next to your nativity set to show they have arrived in Bethlehem.
Set up golden candlesticks by your manger scene.
Drink Lamb’s Wool.
Wear a paper crown at dinner tonight and play jokes on each other.
Read the poem  "Twelfth Night: Or King and Queen" by the English poet, Robert Herrick (A.D. 1591-1674)
Read from Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”
Read “The Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot
Sing  “We Three Kings of Orient Are”
Sing “I Saw Three Ships”

January 5 - This is the 12th Day of the Christmas season.   January 6 used to be celebrated as Epiphany, but it is now celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas.

The Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and tonight is known as "Twelfth Night" (or "Twelfthnight"). It begins the celebration of Christ's revealing His Divinity in three ways, which is formally celebrated tomorrow:
  • to the Magi who, guided by the great and mysterious Star of Bethlehem, came to visit Him when He was a Baby (Matthew 2:1-19) 
  • through His Baptism by St. John, when "the Spirit of God descending as a dove" came upon Him and there was heard a voice from Heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1), and all Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity were manifest (Note: the Baptism of Our Lord is also commemorated on the 13th of January)
  • through His first public miracle -- that of the wedding at Cana when Our Lord turned water into wine at the request of His Mother (John 2). Just as God's first miracle before the Egyptian pharaoh, through Moses, was turning the waters of the Nile into blood, Our Lord's first miracle was turning water into wine.
In many Catholic homes (especially Italian ones), it's not Christmas Day that is for giving presents to children, but the Feast of Epiphany, when the gifts are given in a way related to the Magi. So today will have a "feel" of Christmas Eve, and because of the Epiphany's association with the Magis' gift-giving, tomorrow is often referred http://www.fisheaters.com/peacockfeather.jpgto colloquially as the "Little Christmas." 

It is today that the Three Kings should reach the creche (heretofore, they should be kept away from it) and that Baby Jesus should be adorned with signs of royalty, such as a crown, ermine, and gold or purple cloth. Set up golden candlesticks around the manger where He lies. 

Along with the crowns, scepters, gold, and royal purple, peacocks are also a symbol for the day. They are more generally a symbol of immortality (and therefore a good symbol for Easter, too), but also a symbol of royalty and of the glory revealed by Christ today. The most profound symbols of all, though, are light as a symbol of theophany; wine in memory of the miracle at the wedding in Cana; water and the dove in memory of Christ's Baptism by St. John; the Three Kings, their gifts, and the Star of Bethlehem. 
After a nice candlelight feast (try adding some myrrh or frankincense fragrance oil to your candles tonight!), there is the tradition of drinking a medieval wassail called "Lamb's Wool," which is said to take its name from "La Mas Ubhal," which means "the day of the apple fruit" (and was pronounced like "lamasool").
"Three Kings Cake" is eaten in honor of the three kings, one slice being set aside "for God." Recipes for the latter vary from country to country, but they almost always include a trinket or dried bean hidden inside. The person who gets the slice with the trinket or dried bean is the King or Queen of the Day and gets to choose a consort (this is the French method). An old English way of doing this is to bake two cakes, one for the men baked with a bean for the King, the other for the women, with a dried pea for the Queen. Yet a third option is to make a cupcake-sized cake for each person, with a pea in one and a bean in one, keeping the two separate so you'll know from which batch to serve the men and the women. 

The King and Queen, once chosen, are honored, obeyed, treated and addressed as royalty. When they drink, all cry out "The King (or Queen) drinks!" and take a sip of their own beverages. Some hide a clove in the cake, too, and whoever receives the piece containing it is the Fool (if you have a man's cake for choosing the King, and a woman's cake for choosing the Queen, you could have a clove in each to choose a Fool of each sex). Why not go all out and provide the "monarchs" with golden crowns and scepters -- and any "fools" with silly, fool-ish hats? 

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