During the medieval and renaissance period in Europe, the most important winter holiday wasn’t Christmas Day. Instead, it was Twelfth Night. True to its name, it’s the Twelfth Night of the Christmas season, which lasts twelve days, and also celebrates the coming of Epiphany, which marked the Biblical arrival of the Three Wise Men at the Nativity of baby Jesus (otherwise known as Epiphany.) Because of differences between the modern and medieval calendars, it’s unclear if Twelfth Night actually occurred on Epiphany, though some modern-day Twelfth Night celebrations celebrate both occasions together. My book TENDER IS THE KNIGHT is a romance novel set in against the backdrop of a modern-day recreations of the Middle Ages, and that includes Twelfth Night.
In the medieval and renaissance period, Twelfth Night was an evening of dancing, singing, art, gift-giving, drinking, and merry-making, a general celebration of the winter season, and the last day of mass celebration before Candlemas, which occurs in early February and serves as an early rite of spring (we still celebrate Candlemas today, in fact; Americans call it “Groundhog Day”.) The modern-day custom of Christmas gift-giving originated with the medieval Twelfth Night.
Twelfth Night is also the ceremonial last night of the winter holiday season that begins on All Hallows Eve (modern-day Halloween). In the medieval period, and especially in Tudor and Elizabethan England, Twelfth Night festivities followed a set pattern. On All Hallows Eve, a cake would be served in the feast hall that contained a single bean. Whoever found the piece with the bean in it would be named Lord of Misrule, or the Master of Revels for Twelfth Night two months later. The Lord of Misrule would spend the ensuing two months planning Twelfth Night festivities, which could include a twelve-course feast, dancing, music, song, a costumed masque or pantomime, and (in later periods), scripted plays. In keeping with the Lord of Misrule’s name, most Twelfth Night parties have a “Topsy-Turvy” (i.e., the world is upside down) theme. William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night plays up on this theme especially, with characters in disguise as the opposite sex, with all sorts of mischief ensuing.How would you celebrate a modern-day medieval Twelfth Night? Comment here for a chance to win a FREE copy of Tender Is The Knight as well as a packet of FREE print romance novels from some of my favorite authors!