Twelfth Night, January 6, The Epiphany, is the traditional date for the Old Christmas Day, and seen as the time by which all decorations, including holly and mistletoe should be removed for the new year to begin happily and to avoid misfortune. This is the official end of Christmas The evergreens used should be burnt rather than simply destroyed according to one belief. If it not possible to burn the evergreens on this day, burning them on ‘Candlemas’ will provide the opportunity to avoid unhappiness.
In earlier times though the decorations would have been left up until ‘Candlemas’, 2 February. This festival was established in the 5th-century date was traditionally seen by the church as a day of celebrations for the ‘Purification of the Virgin Mary’. Women who had become mothers or borne children during the previous year were honoured on this day and went to a special service at the church, carrying candles on this day. This Christian festival replaced the Roman festival of ‘Februa’ for which women processed through the streets on this day, again carrying lighted candles, symbolising the purification of all. The day was spent by women completing religious rites connected with purifying the body and mind.
The ‘Twelfth Night Cake’ is a little seen sight in today’s festivities, but traditionally this cake was part of the Christmas customs. Each family would have had a cake. Within the cake a dried bean and a dried pea were placed. If you were lucky enough to find either you would be elected King and Queen of the evening celebrations. The bean was intended for the male, the pea for the female.
In medieval England, and even up until Victorian times, Twelfth Night was a time of parties and games. Traditionally the King and Queen chosen from the gathering were treated to a night of good cheer and the chance to make decisions on the revelries for the night.