I came home from choir practice last night to discover that the husband had de-Christmassed the lounge.
It’s January 6th, Epiphany, or to give it its secular name, Twelfth Night, and today that traditionally marks the end of the festive celebrations, time to take down the tree and give up the excesses. But as the Shakespeare play of the same name, full of mayhem and mistaken identity and masquerades, suggests, that wasn’t always the case.
January 6th actually used to be kept as Old Christmas Day, after the switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 swiped 11 days from September. Some rural families were still celebrating on Twelfth Night until the start of the twentieth century, presumably out of sheer stubbornness. Or, perhaps, the longstanding belief that on the ‘true’ Christmas, the Holy Thorn blossoms and the cattle go down on their knees at twelve o’clock in remembrance.
But Twelfth Night used to be a celebration in its own right, too. It used to mean the evening of January 5th, in the same way that Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas. It was, according to Steve Roud in his very fantastic book The English Year, ‘a universal time for merrymaking and indulgence by rich and poor alike and was second only to Christmas Day.’ There was cake and playacting and parties and family gatherings. My kind of celebration. Like so many things, we have the Victorians to blame for making it staid and depressing, marking only the end of Christmas.
But, as much as I love Christmas, in all its glittery, sparkly glory, I have to admit to a certain sense of relief when the decorations come down. The house feels open, clean, fresh again, ready for the year ahead. At the moment, the shelves are all clear (the husband took down the decorations, but obviously didn’t go as far as putting back the usual ornaments etc) and I can think about what I want to put back on them, and what I don’t. I can find a home for the beautiful picture of Valle Crucis Abbey I acquired while back in Wales. I can reclaim my desk from the nativity set and the piles of cards and get back to work. I can see clearly again and, somehow, having that space around me makes it possible for me to imagine what I want from the year ahead.
Twelfth night may no longer be a wild celebration, but for me it is the start of the new year. And now I feel ready to embrace it.