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The Twelve Days of Christmas

We know, from reading Jane Austen’s letters, that she, along with the rest of Georgian England, celebrated Twelfth Night, the culmination of twelve days of celebrating, beginning Christmas Day. Twelfth Night, which marked the official end of the festivities was a highly anticipated holiday which included games (such as Charades and Tableau Vivants) and special foods, like Twelfth Night Cake.

The time leading up to this celebration was, of course, called The Twelve Days of Christmas, and as the song of the same name implies, it was a time for true lovers to meet, fall in love, or even marry. The twelve days after Christmas were often the scene for house parties and balls, and it is presumed that Jane Austen met Tom Lefory during this time, in late 1795/early 1796.

Her letter of January 9th, 1796, mentions the Manydown ball at which they danced and Jane told her sister to “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all.”

Jane Austen dances with Tom Lefroy in "Becoming Jane"

Jane Austen dances with Tom Lefroy in “Becoming Jane”

This period was also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (6 January) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap.

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