Twelfth Night? Time to take down your Christmas decorations, January 5th

To show a Christmas celebration in the Victorian period, probably twelfth night

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle-doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Twelfth Night

In 1775, William Snooke recorded in his diary, that he sat down to a fine dinner with

‘Mr and Mrs William Clifford and their seven children (and maid), John Fox Snr. and Sally Twining, Mr and Mrs William Fox, and William Weale. To feed this crowd took “Ham, Greens, 3 fowls roasted, Soup, Leg of Mutton, potatoes, Boiled rump of beef (large)” Desert included pudding, mince pies and a forequarter of home lamb. For supper, the assembled party consumed tarts, stuffed beef, mince pies, cold mutton, oysters, cold sliced beef, cold lamb, apple pies and pears.

This is recorded in a fine Pinterest post about Twelfth Night.

Confused by Twelfth Night?

It is of interest that the above meal was on @January 6th, not the 5th. So why is there such confusion as to when is twelfth night? I have a suggestion as to the basis for the confusion as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas begin. Most people agree you start counting from Christmas Day, but some folklore sources going back in time count from Boxing Day. For example, Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Husbandman of 1635 counts it from Boxing Day.

The Daily Express reveals to me that the Protestants count from Christmas Day and the Catholics from Boxing Day. That maybe it, but is the confusion more complicated than that? The religious festival really makes sense if it begins with Christmas Day, and ends with the Epiphany, the day the Three Kings from the Orient come to worship Jesus. But Epiphany is on the 6th January, which is 13 days from Christmas. 13 days of Christmas would be ill-omened. So two solutions: make the end of the Twelve Days the Eve of Epiphany, i.e. the 5th, or start the 12 days from Boxing Day.

I suspect there is a fudge going on here. Twelve is the magic number, twelve Apostles, 12 months in the year, so twelve Days of Christmas. But clearly, for Christians it stretches from Christmas Day to Epiphany. Two ways to square that 13 day difference. One is to begin the twelve days on Boxing Day, the other is to end with a Twelfth Night party on the Eve of Epiphany.

I don’t think I am alone in being confused. If you know any better, please let me know! Tomorrow I will look at Twelfth Night festivities.

However, we currently all agree that January 5th is the day to take down your Christmas decorations. If you fail to do it now, you have to keep them up until Candlemas, which is on February 2nd.

I have republished my post of the Chinese New Year which you can see here:

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3 Replies to “Twelfth Night? Time to take down your Christmas decorations, January 5th”

  1. In.Spain, the 3 Kings Parade starts on January, 5th… A big celebration. They are the ones who bring presents to the children.
    They’re very lucky as the tradition is still alive, so they get presents on Dec 25th AND on Jan, 6th!

  2. Oh, Lord, I just realized that today is the 5th and I haven’t taken down my decorations. Since I live in the Americas (Southern California), maybe a Mayan or Aztec calendar will give me some wiggle room.

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