Twelfth Night (Day)

You may have heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas or even celebrated it in some form as the twelve days leading up to Christmas. But did you know that’s backwards? Traditionally, the twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas and continue for twelve days after, ending January 6th with Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. The whole time in between used to be one long celebration called Christmastide, kind of like what we experience now as the dead week between Christmas and New Years, but with more parties. Twelfth Night was the end of the festivities, celebrated either on January 6th or on the 5th as “Epiphany Eve” depending on how people counted the nights.

Today, Three Kings Day or Epiphany is still celebrated in some Catholic cultures with at least as much gusto as Christmas, with a gift exchange to commemorate the gifts brought by the Wise Men and a King Cake containing a small toy baby or a bean so that whoever finds it gets good luck for the year, and sometimes the honor of being “king” and bringing next year’s cake.

I like the idea of stretching out the Christmas celebrations as long as possible since in the northern hemisphere, this is a pretty bleak time of year. But for people like me who procrastinate taking down Christmas, there’s some bad news: it’s bad luck to keep your decorations up after Three Kings Day. Christmas is over and it’s time to move on. In fact, if you keep them up as long as Candlemas (February 2nd), people used to believe it would bring death into the home – especially if you hang on to the evergreens and holly berries. So, I suppose I’d better start taking down the tree. Happy Three Kings Day!

A Renaissance painting of the three wise men bringng gifts to Mary and baby Jesus.
Adoration of the Magi by Bartolome Esteban Murillo circa 1660
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