Twelfth Night: When is Twelfth Night? Is it January 5 or 6?

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For non-Christians, Twelfth Night brings to mind a famous Shakespeare play. However, Christians and others living in Christian countries will probably know that it marks the coming of the Epiphany in Christianity. reveals what that means and what date Twelfth Night falls on.

What is Twelfth Night?

We all know the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, which counts down the 12 days including and following Christmas Day.

The Twelfth Night marks the epiphany, which means something different depending on which Church you are a member of.

Since the fourth century, the Western Church has been celebrating the epiphany as the day that the Wise Men made it to see baby Jesus in the stable – 12 days after his birth.

The title of Twelfth Night, the Shakespeare play, also refers to the twelfth night of Christmas or Epiphany because that is when it was written to be performed.

There is no actual reference to the celebrations associated with the Epiphany In the play itself, but it centres around festivity and merriment.

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In the UK, some of Europe, and the USA, the Twelfth night is the last chance to take down Christmas decorations.

If you take your decorations after this date, you are in for a year of bad luck, according to Victorian tradition.

It is thought that this stems from the Victorians wanting everyone to go back to work 12 days after Christmas.

Before this, the Tudors are known to have celebrated the festive season until February 1!

February 1 is the eve of Christian festival Candlemas- the day Jesus was presented to the God in the Temple at Jerusalem.

How do we celebrate Twelfth Night?

Traditionally, the Twelfth Night of Christmas was a night for huge parties – sometimes where the roles were reversed and the rich served the poor in Tudor times.

Cake – particularly one similar to the modern Italian Panettone – was eaten, and a dried pea or bean was cooked inside the cake.

Whoever found the special addition was the Lord or Lady of Misrule for the night, which meant they led the celebrations and dressed up like a King or Queen.

Bagpipes were played, people pranked their friends, and games involving eggs and spoons were enjoyed.

There would also be figures or statues of the Wise Men in the Nativity Scene at events.

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Some people in the UK and elsewhere still celebrate Twelfth Night today.

Wassailing, which was enjoyed traditionally too, is still done on Twelfth Night.

A Wassail is an ale-based drink seasoned with spices and honey that was served in large bowls and passed around as people said ‘Wassail’.

The Old English term “waes hael” can be translated to “be well”, so essentially people were drinking to each other’s health.

In Spain, the Three Kings Festival or Fiesta de los Reyes is celebrated on the evening of January 6 every day to mark the epiphany 

The celebration lasts two days and colourful parades including actors as the three wise men march through towns and cities.

The three kings and other colourful characters throw handfuls of sweets to members of the crowd, and Spaniards hold upturned umbrellas to catch as many sweets as possible.

When is Twelfth Night? Is it January 5 or 6?

Twelfth Night is either 12 days from Christmas or December 26 – which one it is depends on tradition.

Today, we generally consider Christmas day to be the first day and therefore Twelfth Night falls on January 5.

However, older customs count the Twelve Days from sundown on December 25, making the Twelfth Day January 6.

The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar states that the Epiphany should be celebrated on January 6 unless “ where it is not observed as a holy day of obligation, it has been assigned to the Sunday occurring between 2 and 8 January.”

To be safe and avoid bad luck, you’re better off taking your decorations and tree down on January 5.

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