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Twelfth Night or Epiphany

"On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... "

~Traditional

Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, marks the day in the Christian nativity story that the three kings, or wise men visited the infant Jesus bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Three Kings, also known as the the Magi, were Caspar, King of Tarsus (from the Land of Myrrh),  Melchior, King of Arabia (from the Land of Gold), and Balthasar, King of Saba (where Frankincense was said to flow from the trees). The popular carol, the Twelve Days of Christmas has a Scottish counterpart called The Yule Days in which the gifts include: a bull that was brown, a grey goose, and an Arabian baboon!

Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, marks the day in the Christian nativity story that the three kings, or wise men visited the infant Jesus bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Three Kings, also known as the the Magi, were Caspar, King of Tarsus (from the Land of Myrrh),  Melchior, King of Arabia (from the Land of Gold), and Balthasar, King of Saba (where Frankincense was said to flow from the trees).

Different traditions mark the date of Twelfth Night on either the 5th or 6th of  January.

Twelfth Night was a part of the year-end festivities in the British Isles and France. These celebrations originated in the Fifth Century when French and English churches created the "Feast of Fools." Temporary Bishops and Archbishops of Fools play-acted, reveled and generally caused mischief.  But by the Fifteenth Century, such ceremonies were banned from church by the French government due to lewd behavior.

 

A new street festival was created and a temporary "king" for the season known as the Prince des Sots was elected.

 

In England, this king was called the "Lord of Misrule" and, in Scotland, the "Abbot of Unreason." The king's reign began on Halloween and lasted for three months, ending on Twelfth Night.

The popular carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" speaks to this period of merriment and has a like Scottish equivalent in "The Yule Days" verse.   It has thirteen days rather than twelve, and the number of gifts does not increase in the manner of "The Twelve Days". Its final verse, as published in Chambers, Popular Rhymes, Fireside Stories, and Amusements of Scotland (1842) as follows:

The king sent his lady on the thirteenth Yule day,
Three stalks o' merry corn,
Three maids a-merry dancing,
Three hinds a-merry hunting,
An Arabian baboon,
Three swans a-merry swimming,
Three ducks a-merry laying, 
A bull that was brown,
Three goldspinks,
Three starlings,
A goose that was grey,
Three plovers,
Three partridges,
A pippin go aye;
Wha learns my carol and carries it away?

 

"Pippin go aye" (also spelled "papingo-aye" in later editions) is a Scots word for peacock or parrot.

For more about the history and duties of the "Abbot of Unreason," whose reign would end tonight, click the three candled crowns.