Saturday, February 21, 2009

Question from Jenna - Twelve days of Christmas

Can someone explain what goes on during the Twelve Days of Christmas game/event that was/is celebrated in England as far back as the 16th Centruy?


Anonymous said...

Fun, games, dances, masques, banquets, music -- really all the fun things you can think of that were done then. And on New Year's Day, they exchanged gifts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kathy.... So are the twelve days celebrated as like doing a theme that corresponds with each day?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenna. The twelve days of Chirstmas dates back at least as far as Medieval times and has it's origins even further back to pagan times, including the Roman Saturnalia. Our modern Christmas has some roots in the past, some of which are quite surprising! The season of advent was a time of fasting, and Christmas Eve was particularly strictly kept, with no meat, cheese or eggs being eaten. The "Twelve Days of Christmas" started properly on Christmas Day, and ended at the Epiphany - Twelfth Day (Twelfth Night came the day before, on the 5th). The celebrations began on Christmas Day when three masses were said, the first one starting at dawn. After the church celebrations they could return home to their first unrestricted meal since Advent began. A great deal of entertaining did go on, but it tended to be between social equals. Whereas nowadays Christmas tends to be a family time, then it was more whole communities - eg villages - getting together to celebrate. All twelve days were not celebrated equally. Most of the twelve days were saints days, but the three most important ones were Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and the Epiphany. Presents were exchanged on New Year's Day. Some of the things essential to celebrating a Tudor Christmas included the institutions of the Boy Bishop, and the Lord of Misrule, the latter supervised entertainments generally, and usually caused chaos! The idea behind both was the same - the Lord of Misrule was usually a servant elevated for the day/season to the position, and all had to obey them; the boy Bishop was usually a young choristor chosen and elevated to the rank of Bishop (though he could not take services etc for obvious reasons!). Wassail was also an integral part of the celebrations - Wassail means "your good health" in Anglo-Saxon; the response is "drink hale".The Wassail involved passing the wassail bowl (usually full of cider) around, and even taking it from house to house. Often, it ended up in the apple orchards where the trees would be "wassailed" to ensure a good crop in the next growing season. Greenery was brought in to decorate the houses, and Mystery plays and Mummers plays formed an important part of the entertainment. You would have been unlikely to see a Christmas tree inside the house, instead you would have seen a "Kissing Bough", although trees outside were sometimes decorated. The feasting was a very important part of the celebrations, with everyone trying to set the best possible feast they could muster. In Tudor times the Boar's Head still tended to take pride of place - if you couldn't afford one you made a meat pie in the best imitation that you could! Minced/shredded meat pies were the forerunners of our modern mince pies, and you can also find the forerunners of Christmas pudding and cake - plum porridge and frumentary. Carols and hymns were sung; games played, especially card and dice games - usually with betting associated!The Epiphany came on January 6th and for most people it was the end of the twelve days of Christmas, and the day for taking down the decorations; it was thought that if you failed to do this, you would have bad luck in the coming year. The Yule log, (introduced from the Pagan Norsemen) also played an important role in a Tudor Christmas and it was expected to be large enough to burn throughout the whole of the twelve days; it was lucky to keep the last bit to light the next year's log!With reference to other games that might have been played, they tended to be "group" games such as Hoodman Blind or Snapdragon.
Sorry to have gone on at such length - and even so only just scratched the surface! For more info, if you "google" the twelve days of Christmas - or even just tudor Christmas or Christmas traditions - you will probably be overwhelmed by info!!! Hope this helps.