Pattaya Daily News

25 December 2010 :: 10:12:57 am 48149

The Twelve Days of Christmas

In the sixteenth century, the winter solstice festivities lasted for several weeks and so the church announced that the festival of Christmas should span from Christmas Day through to the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January.
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The Saxon King Alfred went to great lengths to ensure that the teachings of the church was carried out and made it illegal to work during this period. It is said that this in rule cost him the Battle of Chippenham in the year 878 against the Danes as he refused to fight over the twelve days of Christmas.

During the reign of Henry VIII, ordinary folk were encouraged to play games over the Christmas period as a previous proclamation forbade them to do so at any other time of the year. It was written in the sixteenth century that Christmas was a time for carols, wassailing, and the playing of games.

The first day of the twelve days of Christmas was not Christmas day, but in fact Boxing Day or the Feast of St. Stephen. There were two St. Stephens, but over the centuries, the first whose saint’s day it is, became the first Christian martyr when he was stoned to death in AD33.

The second St. Stephens was a ninth century Swedish missionary who was associated with horses which were bled on this day as it was felt that it would improve their general health, but probably sent a few to an early grave. Horse blessing ceremonies were performed throughout Europe which is probably why St. Stephens has been associated with hunting, racing and other sports involving the horse.

A traditional and macabre sport was the hunting of the wren, carried out on St. Stephens Day. The Druids would sit around the fires they burnt to aid the ailing sun and desired to know what the future held for them. They believed it could be prophesied by the song of the wren. The hunting of the wren was still practiced until the turn of the last century. Once the little wren was captured, it was imprisoned in a little wren house which was quite often a stable lantern. The wren was then paraded throughout the streets while their capturers rejoiced. The little wren was often killed at the end.

The 28th December commemorates the massacre of innocent children by King Herod. This day is also known as the Feast of Fools or the Feast of Asses when people brayed the responses at mass. During the 13th to the 17thcentury, England celebrated the day of the ‘Boy Bishop’ whereby a young chorister was dressed in bishop’s robes and allowed to perform mass before processing through the streets with his retinue and showered with sweet meats and coins.

Although New Years Eve and Day is celebrated by England and Wales, New Years Eve is when the Scots come into their own. New Years or Hogmanay became and remains the night for major winter celebrations.

One old Highland practice involves someone being chased through the streets by villagers while donned with the hide of a cow. He would then knock on the door of a house and beg to be let in. He and his pursuers would then be offered food and drink in return for a strip of the hide for good luck.

Another practice which is customary in the north of England as well as Scotland is ‘First Footing’. When the clock strikes midnight, people wait for a knock on the door to see who will be the first person to cross the threshold. Ideally, it will be a tall dark handsome man bringing gifts of coal, bread, salt or whiskey and if he was a stranger, so much the better. It was not good luck for a dark woman to cross the threshold as it meant the year ahead would be a year of disaster.

The twelfth night goes out in style. Christmas Day was the morning of the season, New Years Day, the middle of it and the Twelfth Night, the Christmas finale….the feast to end all feasts. The festivities surrounding this night involves a pea and a bean being placed in a cake before it is baked. The man, who finds the bean, becomes King for the night and the woman who found the pea would become Queen. If the man found the pea, he could choose his Queen from the gathering, while if the woman found the bean, she could choose her King. Once the King and Queen have been decided, the games would begin.

Some people would leave their decorations up until the 2nd February, but most would take them down by the twelfth night for fear of the holly and the berries turning into mischievous spirits. To take the decorations down before the twelfth night was and is still considered unlucky by some.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Lifestyle

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