“Now Christmas is past, Twelfth Night is the last
To the Old Year adieu, Great joy to the new.”
School of the Seasons

Today is Twelfth Night, the last day of the 12 days of Christmas, and the day when the wise men finally got to see the little baby Jesus. There’s a special place in my heart for the wise men, especially the one named Jasper, or “keeper of the treasure.” But I digress. Like all good Christian holidays, Twelfth Night has its roots in pagan tradition, this one in the Roman winter solstice festival of Saturnalia. For more info on Twelfth Night, check out the entry in Waverly Fitzgerald’s always excellent traditional calendar archives at School of the Seasons. Also, apparently, the Camden County, New Jersey Historical Society has a bitchin’ Twelfth Night party, and they have an impressive amount of things to say about it in this very thorough article, “Twelfth Night, the Holiday That Time Forgot.” Twelfth Night also is a traditional day to take down your Christmas tree and greenery (which I did) and bake a traditional Twelfth Night Cake (which I did not.) But, apparently the Twelfth Night Cake is a pretty big deal:

“In the days when Christmas was kept in the “good old-fashioned way,” the Twelfth Night celebrations marked the last of the twelve days of feasting and jollification following the Festival itself. It was on Twelfth Night that some of the famous cake, in which was hidden a bean and a pea, was handed to every guest. The man and woman lucky enough to find these in their portions were acclaimed respectively “King of the Bean” and “Queen of the Pea,” and presided over the revels which followed.

By the 17th and 18th centuries the cake itself was often made into elaborate and even fantastic shapes, such as ships and castles, with guns which could be fired. As late as in the 19th century confectioners’ shops were lit up on Twelfth Night to display cakes.”
(Text and picture courtesy of The Food Museum

Um, OK, I’ll get right on that for 2010, y’all.

But, anyway, the most important implication of Twelfth Night is that it is the beginning of the Mardi Gras Season! Even now, as I write, drunk Ashevillians are being driven around town on the LaZoom bus, throwing beads at hapless passers-by, in eager anticipation of the onset of Mardi Gras, or as I would like to think, the February 22 Mardi Gras Themed Opening Day Celebration at the Cake Shop on Haywood Road. Anybody want to be in the Krewe of Cake? Let me know. More details to come.