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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. Continue reading The Twelve Days of Christmas

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Twelfth Night

On Twelfth Day we were all agreeably surprised with a sort of masquerade, on being dressed into character, and then we were conducted into the library, which was all lighted up and at one end a throne, surrounded by a grove of Orange Trees and other shrubs, and all this was totally unknown to us all! Was it not delightful? I should have liked you very much to have been of the party. Now I will tell you our different characters. Edward and I were the Shepherd King and Queen, Mama a Savoyarde with a Hurdy-Gurdy; Marianne and William her children with a Tambourine and Triangle; Papa and Aunt Louisa– Sir Bertram and Lady Beadmasc, one hundred years old– Aunt L with a great hoop; Aunt H a Pilgrim; Uncle John– a Turk; Elizabeth a flowergirl; Sophia–a fruitgirl; Fanny Cage– a haymaker; George– Harlequin; Henry– Clown; and Charley a Cupid! Was it not a good one for him, sweet fellow! He had a little pair of wings and a bow and arrow! and looked charming. Besides these great days we had Snapdragon, Bullet Pudding, and Apple in Water, as usual. Fanny Austen to Miss Dorothy Clapman January 12, 1806 Twelfth Night is a festival marking the coming of the Epiphany and concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas. It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities (more…)
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Twelfth Night Cake

Do you recollect whether the Manydown family sent about their wedding cake? Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a piece from her friend Catherine, and Martha, who knows what importance she attaches to this sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there should not be a disappointment. Jane Austen to Cassandra October 13, 1808 Plum cake, (a misnomer, since no actual plums were used) was the highlight of special occasions during the Georgian and Regency Eras. Often served at weddings, it was also the traditional cake served during the Christmas season. This cake, though, was not a Christmas Cake, but a Twelfth Night Cake, and differed from its matrimonial cousin by the inclusion of a dried bean and sometimes a dried pea baked into the batter. The Twelfth Night cake was made with dried fruits in season and spices. According to Maria Hubert, author of Jane Austen’s Christmas, “These represented the exotic spices of the East, and the gifts of the Wise Men . Such things were first brought to Europe and Britain particularly, by the Crusaders coming back from the wars in the Holy Land in the 12th century…Twelfth night is on the 5th January, and has been for centuries the traditional last day of the Christmas season. It was a time for having a great feast, and the cake was an essential part of the festivities. In Great Houses, into the cake was baked a dried Bean and a Pea; one in (more…)