January 6: Twelfth Day, Or What You Will

Alright, TwelfthNightfolks, according to the the Church of England; today is Twelfth Day. The day, also known in most Christian circles as the Epiphany, marks the visit of the Magi and subsequent revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. So, according to traditions, today marks the end of the Christmas season.

So, typically most celebrations of the Epiphany are held the evening before on January 5, the Twelfth Night.Interestingly, there is some confusion as to whether Twelfth Night is actually January 5 or the actual day of Epiphany. See, Twelfth Night dates back to medieval times when days started at sundown. The modern compromise is that Twelfth Night is the evening of January 5, while January 6 is Twelfth Day.

Anyway, there are several traditions associated with Twelfth Day. Perhaps the biggest of these is that in the western world it’s considered unlucky to leave your Christmas decorations up after Twelfth Night. In many Latin American countries, Santa Claus doesn’t deliver gifts on Christmas Day. Instead, the three wise men deliver presents to good little children on January 6, typically leaving the gifts in the children’s shoes. Typically children leave out wine, fruits and milk as gifts for the Magi and their camels. Also, throughout the globe, Epiphany marks the start of the Carnival season. Of course, my favorite Epiphany tradition is the Great Fruitcake Toss held annually in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It’s a fairly straightforward event: People dress up in ridiculous costumes and compete to see who can furthest throw a fruitcake.

Finally, you might be asking how does William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Or What You Will tie into all this. Well, in Elizabethan times, Twelfth Night was celebrated as a day of revelry where servants and masters exchanged roles and cross dressing was acceptable. Basically, it was a lot like Saturnalia. So, Shakespeare’s play (which might have premiered on Twelfth Night, 1602) naturally involves a woman dressing as a man and the tweaking of the social order, as exhibited in the mocking of the puritanical Malvolio by the fool Feste and the drunken knight Sir Toby Belch.

Since today marks the end of the Christmas season, let’s drink a cocktail that is associated with the season and often enjoyed on Twelfth Night; Wassail. The drink is named after a Southern English tradition of singing and drinking to the health of the trees in the hope that they will bring a good harvest in the next Autumn. Wassail is a nice strong warming drink, and this recipe comes from The Silver Book of Cocktails by Carla Bardi.


  • 1 quart Brown Ale
  • 8 ounce Dry Sherry
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 apples
  • finely grated peel of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. each ground nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel and core two apples and cut in thick slices. Place in layers in a baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Drizzle with 2 oz. of brown ale. Bake until the apples are very tender, about 45 minutes. Chop the apples and their cooking juices in a food processor until smooth. Place in a saucepan over medium-low heat and add the remaining ale, sherry, lemon peel and spices. Simmer gently for a few minutes. Peel and core the remaining apple and slice. Add the slices to the bowl and serve while still warm.

Tomorrow: We take a trip to the 25th Century.


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