Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a holiday that falls on the Eve of Epiphany and is celebrated either on January 5th or January 6th—depending on whether the observer starts counting 12 days from Christmas Day or on December 26th. It marks the 12th day of Christmas and the coming of Epiphany—a feast day that marks the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It is a holiday marked by a number of customs and traditions.

The History of Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night can be traced back to the Council of Tours during the 6th century. By proclamation, the 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany were established as not only a sacred season but also one that is quite festive as well. It also established the duty of fasting in preparation for the coming feast. During the Middle Ages, Candlemas generally marked the end of the Christmas season. Twelfth Night would traditionally mark the end of Christmastide and the beginning of the Epiphany Season—a season that ended on Candlemas.

Traditions of Twelfth Night

The traditions of Twelfth Night can vary from one locality or church to another. Even the day on which it is celebrated can change from one place to another. By many popular definitions, Twelfth Night begins on the Eve of Epiphany—which would place it on January 5th. However, there is another definition that places it on the evening of Epiphany—which would place it on January 6th.

During this holiday, food and drink often are at the forefront of celebrations. People eat many traditional Christmas foods during this time and enjoy a punch known as wassail. Up until the 1950s, door-to-door caroling was common, but not so much nowadays. A variety of pastries are also consumed during this time, and these include King’s Cake—otherwise known as Tortell de Reis.

According to tradition, King’s Cake is baked with a “bean” and a “king figurine.” Whomever receives the king figurine will be crowned “king” for the day, and whomever receives the bean will have to provide the cake the following year. In some instances, there is also a pea baked into the cake. Whomever finds this pea becomes “queen” for the night. Sometimes, there is no king figurine but instead, there is only a bean and a pea baked into the cake. In these instances, the person who finds the bean is the king, and the one who finds the pea is the queen.

Observing the Twelfth Night Season

Twelfth Night can be celebrated in any number of different ways. It can be celebrated with solemn religious ceremonies or big brash brass bands. It can be a time of simple meditation, reflection, and fasting, or it can be a time of excess and celebration. It depends on the person observing it, the tradition they are observing it in, and where they observe it. Regardless of how you celebrate this holiday season, just be sure to use the hashtag #TwelfthNight on social media.

Where is it celebrated?
Sweden (De facto half holiday)Iceland (Observance)
When is it?
This year (2024)
Next year (2025)
Last year (2023)