Kage Baker liked to celebrate the traditional 12 days of Christmas. She felt that the modern Christmas tradition had truncated the season, and callously robbed January of its own rightful holidays. Christmas is supposed to run on through January’s first week, after all: that’s where the 12 Days of Christmas go.
Today is their end, being 12th Night; according to the old European calendars, Christmas begins on the 25th of December and runs for the next 12 nights.
Of course, as Kage pointed out in several of her stories, modern usage has altered that progression somewhat. In America these days, Christmas begins about a week after Halloween (making for some hilarious multi-use displays on candy shelves) and runs until the morning of December 25th. Then it’s gone, man, and we’re in free-fall through an amorphous time called “Post-Christmas sale season”, until the merchants settle down to start pushing Valentines’s Day.
A lot of our neighbors dumped their trees on Boxing Day; an alarming number of them had them in the trash by the time Christmas dinner was over. Slackers, say I – slackers! Kage and I followed every step of Christmas, with customized displays and decorations; and Kimberly does the same.
Our tree is still up, and will be until tomorrow – then, and only then, with 12th Night decently put to rest, will the glorious tree come down. White candles will go up instead of red and green; fresh flowers in the vase at the end of my desk. Living in California, I am fortunate enough to have fresh blooms in a a wider selection that just yew and holly, and I like to take advantage of that – Trader Joe’s is my friend there. In fact, I could probably actually find yew and holly at Trader Joe’s …
Before Christmas shifted seismically and ate the next month’s holidays, January 6th used to be quite a multi-faceted celebration. And in several separate parts of our present global society, the individual bits still shine. Kage, a party girl par excellence, liked to give all of them a nod today.
It’s 12th Night, of course – still celebrated in most of the UK, and by myriad Anglophiles everywhere else. Various of my re-creator friends are holding 12th Night parties, dances, and dinners. And it’s a great occasion to eat up the last of the Christmas pudding (which really isn’t bad, fried …). Bonfires are fun on this night, too, and a lovely way to get rid of the Christmas tree – although not in Southern California right now, where we are having hot, hard winds and are under a red flag fire warning. It’s sometimes hard to be an English re-creator in California …
It’s also the Epiphany, celebrated by most of the Western tradition Christian churches: that is the day when the 3 Wise Men finally got through Herod’s TSA and made their way to Bethlehem. It’s regarded as the point where Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles: which is rather amusing, when you consider that most of Christendom holds the big party on December 25th and that non-Gentiles don’t observe it at all.
The Eastern Christian tradition mainly celebrates January 6th as the day Christ was made manifest as God in Man: sometimes it commemorates his baptism in the River Jordan, sometimes it’s celebrated as actual Christmas. Armenian Christians do that. In parts of Greece, the commemoration of the Incarnation skips both December 25th and January 6th, and move the whole thing to January 19th. There it is called Theophany, endowed with all the spiritual weight and import of the previous two dates – but they’re still using the Julian Calendar, while the rest of the world uses the Gregorian.
There are probably more holidays attached to this that I don’t know or have forgotten. Kage and I collected the many uses of these layered days, and tried to honour all the old meanings; all those days and deities that got their serial numbers filed off by the early Christians. It’s hard to keep up with all of them, and they haven’t all worked out too well over the centuries. January 6, 1066 is the day Harald the 2nd was crowned in England, for example, and that was a bad day to be King of England if you weren’t William of Normandy.
But Kage felt that any and all reasons for a party should be remembered whenever possible.And so do I, especially in winter. This dark center of the year needs all the lights, colours, tinsel and goodies we can find.
So, Dear Readers, a Happy Twelfth Night to you all! Merry Armenian Christmas, and a Blessed Epiphany! Happy Birthday to Joan D’Arc, Monsieur Montgolfier and Heinrich Schliemann! Rest In Peace, Teddy Roosevelt and Nureyev! And let’s all raise a glass to poor old Harald II, while we’re at it, too.
Kage always did.
Our tradition (in the UK) was that the tree and all decorations came down on Twelfth Night, before midnight; it was horrible bad luck to leave so much as a strand of tinsel still showing the day after (some kind of spurious Thirteenth Day thing, I guess). Tho’ in my own family this tended to morph into “the tree stays up until Chaz’z birthday [the 4th, or Tenth Night] and then it comes down as soon as possible thereafter”.
Yes, one must allow for customization by household! Some amazing things arise from that …
My tree always comes down on Twelfth Night. I am only one of three people I know, here in Scotland, who use ‘real’ trees. Mine doesn’t get put up till around the 22nd of December, so it’s still fresh when I take it down. (Shame, really!) So many folks use artificial trees in Scotland, and of course they go up at the end of November. And by the 25th, folks are so sick of looking at them, that they take them down, either on Boxing Day itself or the next day. Parties and get-togethers take place BEFORE Christmas. I cannot get used to this. It makes Christmas Day the anticlimax, instead of the start of the 12 Days. Ach, well. I’ll continue to hold out, and eat the leftover fruitcake on the 12th, all by myself…! And avoid the televised Queen…
I don’t think I’d mind a televised Queen. She’s can’t be as bad as most of our Presidents, who don’t even usually bother to give any holiday greetings for fear of being criticized by one of our many lunatic fringes. But, yes – Christmas doesn’t end on Christmas Day. It ought to go on further than that even for Christians (of which I am not one); maybe more for them, in fact. Oh, well. Not to scowl at other people’s ways – but Winter didn’t even properly begin until the Solstice on the 21st, so I am sure not going to leap straight in to Spring a mere two weeks later.
Christmas in California does seem a bit tricky for Anglophiles, but so it must have been for all those plucky British civil servants toiling away in steaming Ceylon or wherever during the glory days of the Empire.
I, for one, feel sad for all the forgotten gods and goddesses who used to be worshipped by the ancient Romans. June 1 should still be a day to make a pilgrimage to Home Depot to give thanks to Cardea, goddess of door hinges.
*checks Wiki delightedly*
Oh, wow – she really was! Thank you so much for this…
*makes calendar note for June 1*
Thank you, Kathleen, for your best wishes for my Armenian Christmas on 6th January. We always got our tree mid- to late December and kept it up until the weekend after Epiphany. In a family with four kids we had holiday music the whole time. Christmas Eve was the big family event for us but we went to church on Epiphany, the DUH day for Christians from your telling of the story. (Brilliant – I never made the connection with the Greek word!) We spent three hours there on a good day with all the music, incense and thanksgiving in a language even most Armenians don’t know anymore. (The Church still uses the archaic Armenian, which isn’t taught outside the church.)
Our tree and decorations come down on the evening of the 6th. If they’re still up after that time then they stay up all year – it’s the only way not to bring bad luck! This year I actually got out of bed just before midnight because I remembered I’d left something up! Plus, I’ve spent a full year with a Christmas wreath on top of a bookcase gathering dust because I forgot to take it down.
Yup, that’s more or less the tradition we grew up with: down by the 6th or leave it up.
Tho’ my mum mostly got fed up and started taking things down on the 5th, once my birthday was safely behind us.