How to Celebrate Twelfth Night

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The 12th night of Christmas marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the Christmas season. The holiday is rarely celebrated in the United States, but you can consider traditional and international Twelfth Night celebrations to decide how to celebrate this holiday for yourself.

When is Twelfth Night? Some traditions consider Christmas Day to be the first day of Christmas, making January 5, or Epiphany Eve, the 12th day of Christmas. In other traditions, the 12th night and Epiphany are on the same day and fall on January 6.

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Christmas festivities in the U.S. usually end after Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but you can continue the celebration beyond the New Year by observing the full 12 days of Christmas, ending on Twelfth Night.

What is Twelfth Night?

Epiphany, also called Three Kings Day, is the day when the the three wise men, or magi, visited baby Jesus Christ as an infant. In other Christian faiths, it is the day that Jesus was baptized. The Twelfth Night festival celebrates the coming of Epiphany and marks the end of the Christmas season.

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Twelfth Night‌ is also the name of a Shakespeare play, a comedy that was possibly intended to be performed as a part of the celebration.

The Twelfth Night celebrations may be the end of the Christmas holiday, but the holiday is also the start of the carnival season and Mardi Gras. In the U.S., Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the most well-known celebration, although many cities may hold events.

Other Twelfth Night traditions

Twelfth Night is a celebration, and holding a ball, or even a masked ball, was a common way to mark the occasion. You can hold your own Twelfth Night party or masquerade to close out the holiday season.

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In Elizabethan times, one tradition was for servants to act as nobility and nobility to act as servants during the celebration. While that social structure has largely changed, consider having a lord or lady of misrule oversee the fun and games of your party.

Twelfth Night party games, such as blind man's bluff, were also common at the festivities, as was the tradition of wassailing. Wassailing involved going down to the orchards and firing guns and banging pots and pans to send away any remaining evil spirits and to awaken the trees to produce a new harvest in the coming year. Participants would also sing songs and enjoy their ale or cider.

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You can have your own version of wassailing by singing Christmas carols and enjoying cider or another beverage.

Celebrate with food and drink

No festivity is complete without food and drink. Put out your favorite beverages or go the more traditional route and serve spiced ale or hard cider.

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Many Twelfth Night celebrations included a large meal called the feast of the Epiphany. However, you can also keep it simple and serve hors d'oeuvres and traditional cakes. King cake, a spice fruitcake, is often associated with Twelfth Night.

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A twist is to bake a single pea and a single bean inside, and the participants who find them in the cake are crowned the king and queen for the party.

Twelfth Night around the world

While Twelfth Night celebrations are not common in the U.S., other countries do celebrate the holiday, some with their own twist. The cake served in Spain is a ring-shaped chocolate cake called roscón. In Spain, the festivities often include a fruit tart or brioche bread.

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Not all celebrations focus on the dessert as the traditional food. In Mexico, for example, you will find tamales as the food of choice for the festivities. In Poland, people enjoy a traditional meal that includes a soup called kutya, borscht and varenyky dumplings, along with sweet or savory pastries called szczodraki. In some places in eastern Europe, Epiphany isn't celebrated until January 19, and the celebrations may include a dip in the local lake or river.

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The Twelfth Night holiday may not be commonly celebrated in the U.S., but that doesn't mean you can't make your own Twelfth Night celebration. Take inspiration from traditions around the world and enjoy a feast, Three Kings cake and singing. The holiday is a wonderful opportunity to bring your family and friends together to celebrate the Christmas season.

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