In the UK, people used to have parties on Twelfth Night and it was traditional to play practical jokes on your friends and neighbours. These included tricks such as hiding live birds in an empty pie case, so that they flew away when your startled guests cut open the crusts (as in the nursery rhyme "Sing A Song of Sixpence" goes, "…the pie was opened and the birds began to sing".
The Twelfth Night cake was a rich and dense fruitcake which traditionally contained a bean. If you got the bean then you were King or Queen of the Bean and everyone had to do what you told them to do.
There were also other items hidden in the cake:
- If you got a clove you were a villain.
- If you got a twig you were a fool.
- If you got a rag you were a tarty girl.
The Yule log, lit on Christmas day, remained burning until Twelfth Night in order to bring good fortune to the house for the coming year. Its charred remains were kept, both to kindle the next year's Yule log, as well as to protect the house from fire and lightning.
Find out more about Yule logs
Traditional Twelfth Night foods served in England include anything spicy or hot, like ginger snaps and spiced ale.
A traditional Twelfth Night drink is a hot and spicy punch called wassail.
People in the UK still celebrate Twelfth Night today.
Many places throughout the UK carry out the Twelfth Night tradition called "Wassailing." On Twelfth Night a lot of people gather to drink to apple trees and to each others health. Find out more
Twelfth Night Celebration in London
Each year Twelfth Night is celebrated on London's bankside riverside. To announce the celebration, the Holly Man appears from the River Thames. Afterwards the traditional St. George play is performed. At the end of the play Twelfth Night Cakes are distributed. Those who find the hidden bean or pea are crowned King and Queen for the day.
Click here to find out more and to see photographs of the celebration
When is Twelfth Night? | Twelfth Day | Twelfth Night Traditions
Why is it unlucky to take down decorations after Twelfth Night?
"The evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking".
Oxford English Dictionary
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