When is Twelfth Night?

The date of Twelfth Night 2016 is Tuesday 5 January.

Twelfth Night is the date by which all Christmas decorations should be taken down to avoid bringing bad luck upon the home. If you forget to take them down by this time superstition holds that they should remain up for the remaining year.

About Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night falls each year on 5 January. It falls on the evening before the Twelfth Day (6 January) which marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas.

The reason it falls on the 5th rather than 6th of January is due to how the end of the day was marked by our ancient ancestors. Rather than starting a new day in the middle of the night (midnight) as we do nowadays, they marked the end of a day when the sun went down and the new day started with the beginning of the night. Thereby nights became part of the holiday that we would perceive to be starting the next day.

For example, Christmas started at sunset on 24 December (Christmas Eve) rather than at midnight on 25 December as it does nowadays.

Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night Cake is a rich fruit cake which is the forerunner to the traditional Christmas cake we now enjoy over the festive holidays.

This cake was traditionally presented at the start of the Twelfth Night festivities so that guests could find the hidden items baked within it. The finders of these items would then be crowned with the following titles.

A dried bean = King of the Revels

A dried pea = Queen of the Revels

A clove = The Knave

A rag = The Tart

Twelfth Night Traditions

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Twelfth Night is:

"the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking"

Twelfth Night marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, a time of celebrating over the Christmas period. As such, Twelfth Night has long been a time for parties and having fun.
Twelfth Night Festivities

Going back to Medieval and Tudor times, much of the merrymaking during the twelve days of Christmas focused on the reversal of traditional roles. Masters would wait on servants, men would dress as women and women dressed as men – a custom we still see today in our traditional pantomimes where the principal boy is played by a girl, and the Dame by a man.

The Twelfth Night festivities were no different and were presided over someone appointed Lord of the Misrule who would rule the revelries. The role would go to someone in a lowly position and gave them the power to command anyone to do anything over the festive period.

They were chosen using a simple form of lottery. At the start of the Twelfth Night festival, a rich fruit cake containing a bean was eaten by all party goers. Whoever found the bean hidden within the cake became the Lord of Misrule and ruled the feast. Twelfth Night marked the end of his rule where the world would revert back to normal.

The Yule Log

The Yule log formed part of the Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. Traditionally the Yule log was a large log that was burned slowly in the hearth from Christmas day to Twelfth Night. Burning the Yule log was meant to bring good luck and fortune to the house for the coming year. The charred remains of the log would be used to relight the next Christmas Yule log.

The burning of the Yule log is a tradition believed to have originated in Germany and adopted by Britain sometime in the 17th Century.

Nowadays, the term Yule log also refers to the log shaped chocolate cakes that are eaten as an alternative to the more traditional rich fruit Christmas cake.