Twelfth Night meaning: The key traditions associated with the winter festival


Twelfth Night (also known as Epiphany Eve) marks the end of the Christmas period. While many see December 25 as the climax for Christmas festivities, for many Christians it merely marks the start of the festive season. Here’s everything you need to know about Twelfth Night and why it’s so significant.

Twelfth Night celebrations may have fallen out of fashion, but historically the winter festival was a cause of huge celebration.

When is Twelfth Night celebrated?

Twelfth Night falls on either January 5 or January 6, depending on how the “12 Days of Christmas” are worked out.

Some see the first day of Christmas as Christmas Day itself, so this means Twelfth Night falls on January 5.

READ MORE: The Queen keeps decorations up until February after ‘awful’ experience

There were numerous traditions associated with Twelfth Night, but many of these were “outlawed” by the Victorians.

The National Trust said: “Sadly in the 1870s, Queen Victoria outlawed the celebration of the Twelfth Night as a day of revelling, fearing everything would get out of hand.”

One key tradition was to have a fruit cake called a “Twelfth Night cake.”

A dried bean and a pea would be baked inside the cake; one in one half and the other in the second half.


According to the National Trust, Twelfth Night was celebrated with a feast. As visitors arrived they were given a slice of cake; ladies from the left and gentlemen from the right.

Whoever found the bean became King of the Revels for the night, and whoever found the pea became Queen.

This gave the King and Queen license to order around the other members of the household for the rest of the night.

Why are Christmas decorations traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night?

Many see it as bad luck to keep decorations up past Twelfth Night.

But English Professor Nick Groom said the tradition of taking down decorations on Twelfth Night is a concept that has developed in modern times.

He told the i: “It was basically the Victorians who decided that Christmas decorations should be taken down after 12 days because they wanted to get everybody to work.

“They fixed it as the season of Christmas in the 19th century.”

In fact, before the Victorians, the Tudors kept celebrating the Christmas period until February 1, as this is when the eve of Candlemas is celebrated.

The eve of Candlemas is a Christian festival that marks the day that Jesus was presented to God in Jerusalem.


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