GUEST COLUMN: When do you take your Christmas tree down? Twelfth Night traditions, by Ann Beedham.

Will your Christmas tree make it through to the New Year?
Will your Christmas tree make it through to the New Year?

Have you taken the tree down then? Most of us do so by January 6. This date is the twelfth day after Christmas Day, also called epiphany, when the three wise men reached Bethlehem. 
Twelfth Night, celebrated the night before, or sometimes on the night of the 6th, was a big time for partying, playing tricks and maybe indulging in a glass of wassail – a hot, mulled punch taken around and shared. It was drunk from a large bowl, often made of wood.

A popular parlour game for Twelfth Night in Victorian times was Snapdragon. It sounds like a health and safety nightmare. Brandy was heated and placed in a wide shallow bowl, raisins were placed in the brandy which was then set alight. The aim was to pluck the raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them...ouch!

Another tradition was a Twelfth Night cake made with eggs and butter, fruit, nuts and spices. In it was baked a pea or bean, and whoever found it was Lord or Lady of Misrule for the night. This meant they were dressed like royalty and lead the celebrations. 
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is said to have been written as evening entertainment. This play has elements of this role reversal, such as a woman, Viola, dressing as a man, and a servant, Malvolio, imagining he can become a nobleman. Some trace of this dressing up and role reversal can be found in our pantomimes.

Mumming or guising was also carried out around many Derbyshire villages. The word guising comes from the fact that players were often disguised by masks or fancy dress. Mumming plays vary, but usually have a doctor, a king, a devil such as Beelzebub, a horse and St George.