12th Night

Well here’s a thing.

6th January is a little considered date in our calendar really. As far as the Christian West is concerned, it marks Epiphany – the day the 3 wise men visited the Christ child and it also marks his baptism. I was baptised on Epiphany.

Epiphany begins the festival season in Catholicism ending with Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras and in Eastern Europe and Russia, it’s actually Christmas Eve.

January 6th in early medieval times signified the end of the yuletide celebrations and was often when everyone got back to the serious business of work and surviving the harsh winter months to come.

Which brings me to 12th night.

There has always been for me a vagueness about this night – and for someone who is everso slightly superstitious, vagueness isn’t helpful.

Firstly, as a child I believed the 12 days of Christmas was part of the run up up to Christmas day, like an advent calendar – instead of the feast days between Christmas day and January 6th that it truly is. The interesting point here is the emphasis on ‘days’.

The significance of 12th night to the majority of us is taking the Christmas tree’s down and packing away the baubles –  because for the superstitious amongst us, to not do so brings in a year of bad luck – and who needs that?

Up to this year, I always took the tree down on January 6th. To fail to take it down meant the only solution for those wary of their luck running out so early in the year -was to keep the tree and decorations up until – now some sources say Imbolc (Feb 2nd) and others say Shrove Tuesday. How should you navigate your way though that ambiguity – bad luck would haunt you for sure!!!

So there was no missing that January 6th deadline.

January 6th is derived from Christmas Day starting as day 0.

However, I read something very plausible over Christmastime. The point was how very many great historical festivals stressed the importance of the evening before the festival – Hallow’een (the eve before All Hallows Day) and of course Christmas Eve itself. Indeed I mentioned above Imbolc on Feb 2nd – but the celebration actually begins at sundown Feb 1st and ends sundown Feb 2nd.

Our ancestors seemed keen to note separately the day of an event and the evenings- you have to count days and nights as separate entities; that means although Christmas Day is itself day 0, the night of Christmas Day is night number 1. So if you count the nights only – 12th Night is January 5th.

I was flabbergasted – I had been vehemently opposed to the idea that 12th night was anything other than Jan 6th.

This year the tree was down and packed after sundown Jan 5th.

I’m now sitting back to watch the bad luck to zip on by.

Glad that’s sorted.




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