Kage Baker looked up once a few years ago on 12th Night and commented, inapropos:
“Twelfth Night – 12 letters and only 2 vowels. Ought to be Welsh.”
She could say things like that, being descended from some Welsh folks. When you are yourself cognisant with a given culture and know you have a fair share of the stereotypical eccentricities attached to it, you have some leeway. Kage partook primarily of the verbosity for which the Welsh are known by the rest of the UK (that Monty Python skit in the mine is closer to reality than you can imagine); and, of course, she sang.
(I got a lot of this, too …)
“Twelfth Night” is a funny pair of words, though. They’re old words, none of your Johnny-come-lately Gallic or Asian borowings – like colour or catsup. They’re both cognates of Old English out of Old Germanic via Proto-IndoEuropean. These are words that came along out of the depths of the plains with the recurring tides of horse-riding, wheel-using, metal-smelting folks who overran Europe so long ago that no one is quite sure who they were. But Kage’s own red hair and pale skin and maybe even her left-handedness probably came with them.
“Twelfth Night” partakes of the Celtic tradition of counting the year by nights, as well. That is probably one of the reasons so many of the holidays we inherited from the British include Eves – the festivities start on the night before, the holiday begins at sunset or midnight. If you think this is not so, consider how many of them you yourself have been celebrating just since the Autumnal Equinox rolled around …. Halloween, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve. And now, if you are any one of several sorts of Northern or Middle European-descended people, Twelfth Night. The Epiphany. Little (or Armenian or Orthodox or Russian) Christmas. Partridge in a pear tree day, for heaven’s sake.
I myself get pedantic at times, just as Kage did. Hence this lecture, poised on the box that held my knitting calendar … there may not be a way to talk about Old English cognates and the like without getting verbose and scholarly, but I know I do this as well when I am upset. It’s one of my coping mechanisms. The insistence on the bon mot, the precise phrase, has always been my back-and-breast.
Twelfth Night was important to us, you see. Sometimes, in the rush of Dickens and Christmas and multiple sisters’ families to visit and all the rest of the holiday madness – this was the best quiet moment. This was the midwinter hush, the holy time in the snow, the instant where the curtains of northern light swept down to put paid to the tired, tired day. The noise of spring is not yet begun. The winter sacrifice has been made, the light has been reborn, the sun is dependably started back on His return journey. A special kind of holy quiet was always shared on Twelfth Night.
I miss it. I miss Kage. The winter equipoise and post-holiday peace are not for me this January. “This time last year” is a thought that has haunted me for the past year. I’ve often resisted it, though I have also often succumbed. But now it is growing thorns and tentacles; for the next 3 weeks it will twine close round my heart and its black blossoms will drip acid. And then this year, this ghastly year, will be at least be over.
But for now I talk too much, too long, too loudly – there are worse things I could do than indulge my genetic propensity for interminable pontificating. I think.