Jan Steen, Twelfth Night (Bean Feast), 1668
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ..."
Twelfth Night Revels
Different traditions mark the date of Twelfth Night on either 5 January or 6 January, depending on which day one considers to be the first of the Twelve Days: 25 or 26 December.
Twelfth Night is part of the end of the traditional Christmas festivities most celebrated the British Isles and parts of Europe. Celebrations began in the fifth century when French and English churches created The Feast of Fools.
Temporary Bishops and Archbishops of Fools play-acted, reveled, and created mischief. By the 15th century it was banned from church by the French government due to lewd behavior. A new street festival was created and a temporary king for the season called a Prince des Sots was elected. The king was known as The Lord of Misrule in England, and in Scotland he was called:
The Abbot of Unreason, in most areas
The Abbot of Bon Accord, in Aberdeen
The Abbot of Narent, Edinburgh
The Abbot of Unrest, Inverness
The "king" began his reign on Halloween and reigned for three months, particularly during Christmastide but also during the revels of May.
In common households, a smaller version of the celebration may have been celebrated with one person designated as "the king" chosen either by the youngest child or some other version of lots.
A highlight of the evening is the "bean-feast" a tradition still celebrated with Twelfth Night cakes (also called "King's Cake" or "Galette des Rois), in which a cake is mixed up together with a hard pea and/or bean or perhaps another trinket.
The cake is baked and divided, and the one receiving the piece with the bean or pea will have good fortune the rest of the year, or in other traditions, be designated "King" or "Queen" to host over the rest of the evening's festivities.
In Victorian times, thimbles or other silver charms might also be baked into a Twelfth night cake (or inserted in each piece randomly before serving) which would indicate one's special fortunes for the coming year!
For more on various traditions and charms hidden within "King Cakes" click the cake!