Medieval traditions, St. James-style

A number of you have asked me what goes on at a Twelfth Night party, and I have to admit, I’m not really sure. I’ve never been to one before! But we’re gonna have one at St. James this Saturday night, so I think we just get to make it up as we go along.


Rules about Twelfth Night traditions are remarkably loose. As a church, we can’t even really agree on exactly WHEN the Twelve Days of Christmas begin and end. If Day One is counted as Christmas Day, then Twelfth Night is celebrated on the eve of Epiphany, Jan. 5. On the other hand, if you don’t start counting until the day AFTER Christmas, then Twelfth Night is celebrated on January 6, the evening of Epiphany itself.


I don’t know which is correct, but I do know that having the party on Saturday rather than Friday worked better for us, so we’re going with that.


Liturgically, at Epiphany we celebrate the visit by the wise men to the baby Jesus, and a change of seasons in the church year, from the white of Christmas to the green of Epiphany (though we won’t actually pull out our green vestments and paraments until after Jan. 7, when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus). On Saturday, we’ll begin the evening at 6 p.m. with a Service of Light, done by candlelight. It will be worshipful and, I hope, inspiring and beautiful.


Then we’ll move into the Parish Hall for our party. In medieval times, Twelfth Night parties included feasting, drinking wassail, the singing of Christmas carols, and the choosing of a king and queen for the night.


At our Twelfth Night party, we’ll feast on heavy appetizers, have some wassail (a fancy name for spiced cider), and enjoy a White Elephant present swap. If you’d like to participate in that, just bring a wrapped present. It can be a gift that you received that just isn’t right for you but might be perfect for someone else, or it can be something else you’ve just been trying to get rid of for awhile. Everyone who brings a present will get to leave with a different present. Maybe you’ll get lucky!


Mostly, we just hope Saturday evening will be a time to come together as the community of St. James, invite friends to join us, to worship, to feast, to sing, to laugh, and to joyfully be the people of God. Please plan to join us!