Tag Archives: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night — January 5

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst (ca. 1622)

Bible connection

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. — Matthew 5: 14-16 (TEV)

All about Twelfth Night

The twelve days of Christmas traditionally end with the celebration of the eve of Epiphany on Twelfth Night, January 5th. The church generally begins its feasts on the eve of the day (like Christmas Eve or Hallowe’en). Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Jesus as the Savior of the whole world as first shown by the coming of the magi. Twelfth Night is the time to remove the festive decorations, leaving just the lights on the tree for one final evening to emphasize the Epiphany theme of Jesus as the Light of the World.

Sing this song with your family or roomies as you take down the decorations!

In England in the Middle Ages, Christmastide was a season of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was forever solidified in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the setting for one of his most famous stage plays.

On this last day of Christmastide, we finally get to the last verse of our song! On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Twelve drummers drumming.

According to the thought that this song has a secret meaning for Catholics to use in catechizing children and converts, the “twelve drummers” stand for the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed, which is a short summary of the points of faith a person should affirm before they are baptized.:

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
  4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave].
  5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
  6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  8. the holy catholic (universal) Church,
  9. the communion of saints
  10. the forgiveness of sins
  11. the resurrection of the body
  12. and life everlasting.
Kazimierz Sichulski, “The Homage of the Three Kings,” 1913
Kazimierz Sichulski, “The Homage of the Three Kings,” 1913

What do we do with this?

Pray: Fill me and my home with light. Make me and our church the light of the world this year.

Some people eat their Epiphany cake as part of the Twelfth Night celebration. Baked into the  cake are three hidden coins, nuts, or beans. Sometimes they give crowns to those who find the objects hidden in the cake, making them “kings” or “queens” for the evening. They can “rule” over the party. I’d ask them to grant crowns to everyone as one of their first acts. If you follow the Austrian custom of burning incense (an ancient symbol for prayer) to “welcome the three kings,” the “king” can lead a procession throughout the house as you ask God to bless your life this year in the various rooms. Take the procession outside, if you like, and bless the whole neighborhood!

We don’t need to perfectly know how to pray. But we do need to trust the Spirit to pray in ways that are deeper than we understand. We can surrender to the connection God is making with us and others as the light of Jesus floods the world with hope and goodness. The Quakers have specialized in that kind of silent, trusting prayer.  Like they often do, meditate through your acquaintances and spend a good amount of time lifting individuals and whole groups “into the light.”