Twelfth Night is celebrated every 12 days after Christmas, either January 5 or 6, depending on when the counting started — Christmas Day or Boxing Day. This year, it falls on January 5. It marks the coming of Epiphany, a Christian festival that holds different meanings for the Eastern Church and Western Church. Did you know that William Shakespeare wrote a play of the same name as the Twelfth Night to close the Christmas season? Some traditions say Christmas decorations should be taken down on the Twelfth Night to avoid bad luck. However, if you forget to do that, it’s recommended to keep them up until Candlemas on February 2, or the Twelfth Night of the following year.
History of Twelfth Night
The origin of Twelfth Night can be traced to the Eastern Church, where it was first celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. The Eastern Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is primarily found in Western Asia, Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. However, as early as the second century, Christ’s birth was celebrated in Rome on December 25.
A council of priests in Rome declared the twelve days of Christmas in the fourth century, which included Christmas Day and Epiphany. The Epiphany holiday was held to commemorate the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus in the manger. One of the motives for this proclamation, according to historians, was to assist the Roman administration in aligning its solar Julian calendar with the lunar calendars of the Eastern provinces.
In Tudor England, Candlemas (February 2) was traditionally the end of the Christmas season. But that later changed to Epiphany’s eve, which is also the Twelfth Night. The introduction of Epiphany in England led to the creation of a new season called Epiphanytide that ran from January 5 or 6 to Candlemas. In colonial America, it was a tradition to take down the Christmas decorations at the end of the 12 days of Christmas and eat any edible part of the decorations.
On February 2, 1602, William Shakespeare performed his play, “Twelfth Night or What You Will,” at Middle Temple Hall. Although the performance was on Candlemas, many believed the play was written as a Twelfth Night entertainment.
Twelfth Night timeline
Romans celebrate Christmas on December 25.
A council of Roman priests declares the twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas to Epiphany, as a sacred and festive season.
After the introduction of Twelfth Night, people in Tudor England begin celebrating a new season, Epiphanytide.
William Shakespeare performs his play of the same name on Candlemas on February 2.
Twelfth Night FAQs
Is Twelfth Night a bank holiday?
No, Twelfth is not a bank holiday. It is the night before Epiphany and can also be called “Epiphany’s Eve.” It is not considered a public holiday in most parts of the world, and businesses operate during regular hours.
What happens on the 12th night of Christmas?
It is traditional for people to take down their Christmas trees and decorations in preparation for Epiphany the following day.
Is the 12th night January 5 or 6?
The day of the Twelfth Night depends on when your church chooses to start its count — Christmas Day or the day after Christmas. However, in England, the count begins on Christmas Day, making the Twelfth Night on January 5.
Twelfth Night Activities
Throw a Twelfth Night party
Throw a Twelfth Night party the traditional way, which centers around the king cake. The centerpiece would be the king’s cake, containing a bean and a pea. The two individuals who got the slices with the bean and the pea become the party’s king and queen. You could add a twist and obligate the king and the queen to host the following Twelfth Night.
Even though it’s in January, Twelfth Night is still part of Christmastide. So, in the spirit of Christmas, hand out gifts to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, as well as neighbors.
Act out Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
This is a bit over the top, but it will surely make your Twelfth Night a memorable one. You would need a stage, a cast, and stage crews. You won’t have to act the entire play, just three to five scenes should be enough for your production. Your stage could be your living room and the spectators — your family and friends.
5 Amazing Facts About The Twelve Days Of Christmas
It started as a children’s game
According to many scholars, the song probably originated as a children's memory and counting game.
Due to the structure and supposed hidden meanings behind the song’s content, many people believed that the song was a way for British Catholics to teach their children about their faith in 1700s England.
It became music in the 20th century
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” became the famous Christmas carol as we know it today after it was composed by Frederic Austin.
It has numerous parodies
The Christmas carol has been parodied by many stars, musicians, movie characters, and radio personalities, including Winnie the Pooh, Fay McKay, the Chipmunks, Bob Rivers, and Sinatra.
Buying the gifts would be expensive
If you choose to purchase everything mentioned in the song lyrics, it would cost you up to $115,000.
Why We Love Twelfth Night
Every culture has its Twelfth Night traditions
Each culture across the world has its way of celebrating Twelfth Night. In New Orleans, it marks the start of the Carnival season. In France, people eat ‘Gateau des Rois’ throughout the month. In Ireland, people place the statues of the Three Kings in the crib.
Twelfth Night is part of Christmas
Contrary to many people’s thinking, Christmas does not end on December 25. It extends to January 5 or 6, depending on how you choose to count it. The fact that we still get to celebrate some kind of Christmas in January is beyond glorious. You can still sing Christmas carols, share presents, and have a great Christmas dinner with your family.
It is another opportunity to get presents
Who doesn’t love gifts? We don’t think there’s anyone who would reject a present if given one. If you didn’t get presents from the first day to the eleventh day of Christmas, here is your last chance.
Twelfth Night dates