Kage Baker loved the celebration of Twelfth Night. It put a proper end on the Christmas Season, rather than the abrupt murder of all decorations and good cheer that takes place in most American homes the very day after Christmas. There are homes where part of the Christmas Day festivities is denuding the tree. On my block here in Los Angeles, two houses have already put their trees out on the curb. What a horrible letdown!
Tonight is Twelfth Night, Dear Readers – the last of the 12 days of Christmas. Armenian and other Orthodox Christian friends are celebrating Christmas; a lot of Latin countries and neighborhoods just celebrated the Three Kings arrival at the manger yestreday. In my house, all our lights and deco are still up; we’ve eaten most of the leftovers, and I just polished off the fruit cake.
Kage knew a song for every holiday; including this one, of course. Some of the holidays no longer exist; others are antiques, celebrated by the few who always ready to lift a glass. The Renaissance Faire contributed a lot of them, as well as to a lot of them – once you get actors and musos well lubricated, they’ll start ad libbing on all the songs we all learned off the same few albums by Steeleye Span, Pentangle, Fairport Convention …
First we all learned the same songs. Then we began to riff on them. And then we began to write our own. Those of us who had no composition skills just memorized everything we heard, and sang it all back through the mutating force of differing harmonies.
Some of them were from the Anvil of the World universe, and others were from the Middle Ages, Tudor England, the industrial revolution – those Luddite hymns had some snappy tunes, you know? Some were out of stories, and some from histories. And some of those (songs, stories and histories) Kage wrote herself.
Kage was an alto and I am a soprano. We could sing anything in parts, sometimes in harmonies so close that other singers couldn’t find their way into the mix. (Sorry, Athene – we were annoying!) Everyone we knew could sing, or fiddle, or play a trombone (lots of weird brass out under the oaks in the Old Days), a creuth or a serpent or a shawm, or at least keep time with the bones or a tambourine. We used to spend the late afternoons under the trees in the Innyard, dozens of folks with instruments and mugs and bottles, singing their hearts out as the light turned golden and timeless.
I’m especially happy about 12th Night this year, because tomorrow I go into the hospital for a couple of cardiac tests. One is nothing much; the other is a transesophageal echocardiogram, and it worries me quite a lot. I shall probably come through it scathless, but the very idea is upsetting me. So the jollies of tonight are particularly welcome, even if it’s only the happy consumption of fruit cake and chocolate coins. Bear me in your mind, Dear Readers, if it’s not too much trouble – I have to get up before the sun even rises!
I’ll just lean into the memories of those endless afternoons under the oak trees, taking comfort from the voices rising up all around me. I was a pane of coloured glass in a cathedral window in those afternoons; we all were, held in place with the silver of violins, the polished wood of shawms, the weight of beloved shoulders against mine as we sang the sun down into the West …
I suspect we are still sitting there. Certainly, I can hear us in my mind.
TWELFTH NIGHT CAROL (which we sang to our queen, rather than the traditional king)
Joy, health, love, and peace be all here in this place
By your leave, we will sing concerning our Queen
Our Queen is well dressed, in the silks of the best
In ribbons so rare, no Queen can compare
We have travelled many miles, over hedges and stiles
In search of our Queen, unto you we bring
We have powder and shot to conquer the lot
we have cannon and ball to conquer them all
Old Christmas is past, twelve tide is the last
And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new