Celebrating Old Twelfth Night – Although modern Twelfth Night falls on the 5th January, there are some people (and regions) that still celebrate Old Twelfth Night on the 17th January, with Wassailing local apple trees and eating King Cake or Twelfth Night cakes.
Traditions and Recipes for Old Twelfth Night
Today, the 17th January, is Old Twelfth Night, a date that is still celebrated in many rural communities throughout the Great Britain, particularly in the English counties where apples and orchards are prevalent, mainly Suffolk, Kent, Somerset, Herefordshire and Devon, and, where wassailing the apple orchards and trees is still celebrated. These English counties are also the main cider (cyder) and apple juice producing areas of the UK too. So why is it OLD Twelfth Night? Well, after the Calendar Act (New Style) of 1750, where the New Year started on Lady Day, 25th March, the calendar was reformed by Royal assent, and the old Julian calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar, which we know and follow today. Thus, 11 days were “lost” and there is a lot of mythology that suggests that there numerous “calendar riots”, although there is little documentation to support this. As someone who studies and researches old British customs, traditions, feasts and festivals, I love the idea that nearly 300 years later, there are still some regions in England that celebrate Old Twelfth Night, and why not I say.
So, as I am in the midst of New Year healthy eating, I thought why not take a day off to celebrate this old feasting and quaffing day, by sharing some of the traditions and recipes associated with Old Twelfth Night. Firstly, the “Quaffing” bit is very important, as the main recipe for today is Wassail. A traditional hot, mulled drink, Wassail is making a comeback after being in a culinary wilderness since the beginning of the 20th century, it’s basically a spiced hot cider that is fortified with port and sherry and is served with hot, baked apples. As well as imbibing in a mug or two of hot booze, wassail is also accompanied by singing, and it is popular as a beverage to enjoy whilst “wassailing” apple orchards. We have lost a staggering two-thirds of our orchards since 1960, according to Common Ground, and of the 2,000 cooking and dessert apples, there are only a handful that remain, which is such a shame. So, as well as celebrating Old Twelfth Night today, I’d like to share some apple recipes, as well as celebratory cake recipes, and of course a recipe for WASSAIL.
Another interesting snippet I picked up whilst researching, was relax if your Christmas decorations are still up, as according to James and Mary Ford’s poetry book “Every Day in the Year” from 1902, Christmas decorations are kept up on churches until Candlemas Day, the 2nd of February, as written in a poem by the English clergyman and poet, Robert Herrick. Candlemas is also a day for pancakes, called La Chandeleur in France, this ancient festival marks the midpoint of winter (the half way point between the shortest day and the spring equinox) and also the end of Epiphany.
By Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
The second day of February is called the Feast of the Purification or Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Called Candlemas in the early Church from the practice of carrying lighted candles in procession in memory of Simeon’s words at the presentation of the infant Saviour, “to be a Light to lighten the Gentiles.” The Christmas decorations in the churches are taken down on this day.
DOWN with rosemary and bayes,
Down with the mistleto,
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineere,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appeare.
Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne
To honour Whitsontide.
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With colour oken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed as former things grow old.
I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post about Old Twelfth Night, I am sharing some recipes below, that contain booze, cakes and apples – Enjoy! Karen
Recipes to enjoy on Old Twelfth Night:
Rich crumbly fruit cake, sumptuous icing and a classic design. We’ll help you make a marvellous Twelfth Night cake with this recipe from the kitchen at National Trust Stowe.
Mary’s traditional Twelfth Night cake is the perfect way to celebrate the end of the festive season.