The Twelfth Night Thread (1/5)

In modern days, Christmas Season goes from, say, Halloween all the way until Christmas. Not so back in the day. Christmas season went from December 25 to January 5 or 6, or “Twelfth Night“, or the “Twelfth Day of Christmas,” or that time when the wise men finally showed up with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These days, we primarily remember it as the days that twelve drummers come drumming.

Supposedly, it is unlucky to leave Christmas decor up after Twelfth Night. So… I dunno… take down those lights or the Krampus is gonna getcha! It is also a time of singing Christmas carols (just when you thought you’d gotten rid of them until this December), chalking the door, and general mayhem and merry making.

Among ye olde party traditions: the serving of king cake. If a man found a bean in his cake, he was king for a day. If a woman found a pea, she was queen for a day.

Be jealous.

The tradition continues on in the United States, specifically in New Orleans. Only this time there’s a slightly odder twist: the vegetable matter is replaced with a tiny plastic baby figurine (representing the baby Jesus). Also there’s been a time shift: the tradition of “baby cakes” went from Twelfth Night to Mardi Gras. Way to stay on brand, NOLA. The tradition has become so ingrained that New Orleans has a minor league baseball team named after it. Their mascot is very upsetting.

I’m coming for you, Gritty.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) this scary baby won’t be around for long as the team plans to move to Wichita in 2020.

If name of this archaic holiday sounds familiar, it’s probably because William Shakespeare once wrote a play called Twelfth Night. In a pique of commercial savvy befitting of the Hallmark Channel, Willy Shakes intended the play to be performed every Twelfth Night hence. A sort of Christmas Prince for its day, if you will. The play emphasizes the day’s boisterousness, with a woman named Viola dressing as a man (and gets involved in a love triangle with members of both sexes) and a servant imagining himself noble. The play itself was the basis of Shakespeare in Love (with Gwyneth Paltrow playing Viola), so it’s kind of a shame that Best Picture Oscar Winner isn’t in regular rotation around this time of year.

Another Twelfth Night adaptation you can watch for this most blessed of days is She’s The Man. This one stars Amanda Bynes as Viola and Channing Tatum as a guy whose full name is, quite incredibly, Duke Orsino. A bunch of English Lit majors were high-fiving each other over that one, I guarantee. Bynes has opened up about how she went into deep depression after this film because her appearance as the male “Sebastian” was pretty awful. I haven’t watched this movie, but after pulling up some screenshots of the movie I have to agree.

Brain hurty.

Incidentally, the Twelfth Night was not the formal end of the Christmas season in Shakespeare’s Day. It was still fairly early in his version of the Christmas season. The festivities would end on February 2, celebrating the day Jesus would go to the temple and was referred to by the absolutely metal name of Candlemas. I’m guessing Candlemas never caught on the US, though, because it has since been eclipsed by an even greater holiday: Super Bowl Sunday.