Monday, January 6, 2014

Twelfth Night Revels

by Maria Grace

Epiphany or Twelfth Night was the exciting climax of the Christmastide season, a time for putting away social norms. It was a feast day to mark the coming of the Magi, and as such was the traditional day to exchange gifts. 

Decorations were to be taken down and burned by midnight on this day or the family would face bad luck for the rest of the year. Some believed that for every branch that remained a goblin would appear.

Revels, masks and balls were the order of the day and night. Often each guest would randomly select a character to play by drawing a slip of paper from a hat or bag. Guests had to remain in character for the entire evening. 

Besides the King and Queen, a variety of characters, often pulled from popular literature and plays, were available. Common characters included Sir Gregory Goose, Sir Tumbelly Clumsy, Miss Fanny Fanciful and Mrs. Candour. Sets of pre-made characters could be purchased from stationers, or a family might copy them from books on games and merry-making.

Twelfth001Servants were often included in the revelries. This could become particularly interesting when one became the king or queen for the evening.

Mince Meat Pie and Twelfth Night Cake

Though many dishes graced the tables for Twelfth Night revelry, two particular dishes were known for their connection to Twelfth Night.

Most considered mince meat pies, also known as Christmas or Twelfth Night pies staples of the season. Recipes varied by region, but usually included beef, poultry and other meats, suet, sugar, raisins or currants, spices, orange and lemon peel, eggs, apples and brandy. Leftovers from the Christmas feast would be used to make pies for the twelve days until Epiphany. Eating minced pie every day of the twelve days of Christmas was said to bring twelve months of happiness in the new year. To strengthen the charm, the pies must be baked by the dozen and offered by friends.

A special Twelfth Cake would be the centerpiece of the party. By the early 19th century, the cakes were elaborate creations with sugar frosting, gilded paper trimmings, and sometimes delicate plaster of Paris or sugar paste figures. In towns, confectioners would display these cakes in their shop windows that were illuminated by small lamps so the displays could be admired during winter evenings.

Parlor Games 

Parlor games were played by all classes of society and often involved overstepping the strict bound of propriety. Losers often paid a forfeit, which could be an elaborate penalty or dare, but more often were a thinly disguised machination for getting a kiss. Often, forfeits were accumulated all evening, until he hostess would ‘cry the forfeits’ and they would all be redeemed.

Blind Man’s Bluff and variations thereof

Blind man's bluff
Playing Blind man's bluff
Many variations of this game existed, including Hot Cockles, Are you there Moriarty, and Buffy Gruffy. All the variations include one player being blindfolded and trying to guess the identity of another player who had tapped them or who they have caught. A great deal of cheating was generally involved, which only added to the sport.


A Dragon playing Snapdragon
 Raisins were piled in a bowl, topped with brandy and lit on fire. Players would try to snatch raisins out of the blue brandy-flames and eat them without getting burned—or lighting anything else aflame. The guest with the most raisins is destined to find true love in the upcoming year. 

While brandy burns with a relatively cool flame, I’m not sure I would suggest this for the next family Christmas party. Though not nearly so dramatic charades is probably much safer!

The Courtiers 

 The king or queen occupied a chair in the center of the room. The courtiers would then copy the monarch’s movements with losing their decorum. Any number of simple or vulgar actions might be attempted to cause laughter among the courtiers, thus resulting in a forfeit.

Steal the White Loaf 

 A chosen player, ‘it’, stood with their back to the others and a ‘treasure’ on the floor behind him/her. Another player would try to sneak up and steal the treasure. If ‘it’ turned around and saw them moving, then they would be ‘caught’ and become ‘it’.

Bullet pudding 

Flour was piled into a high mound and a bullet placed on the top. Players cut slices out of the flour pile with a knife without dislodging the bullet. If the bullet fell, the player had to retrieve the bullet from the flour with their teeth.

Playing Cards 7564
Post and pair 

This was a quick card game. Each player is dealt three cards. The winning hand was a pair of kings, queens or jacks, or otherwise highest ranking pair.

Tableaux Vivants 

Players took on the positions of a famous painting, nursery rhyme, or play and remained still and on display for those not participating in the scene.


The game could be played two different ways. In one, each player in turn would recite their riddle, and the rest had to guess at their word. In the second, the party would divide into two or more groups, would create short one minute acts to describe the syllables, the last describing the whole word for the rest of the party to guess.

The End of Twelfth Night Revels 

Although Twelfth Night revelry could be peaceable and even family-friendly, it often became quite riotous thanks to large quantities of highly alcoholic punch served during the evening. In the 1870′s, Queen Victoria outlawed the celebration of Twelfth Night in fear the celebrations had become out of control.

A Regency Christmas. Kieran Hazzard ©2013 2nd Bn. 95th Rifles
Christmas in the Regency Jo Beverley
Celebrating a Regency Christmas.Regina Jeffers
Christmas Traditions in Regency England. Regan Walker
Christmas Frivolity. Joanna Waugh. 2008.
Revel,Rachel.Winter Evening Pastimes or The Merry Maker’s Companion. 1825
Jane Austen and Christmas: Celebrating Twelfth Night 
Jane Austen and Christmas: Parlour Games for the Season and Twelfth Night Twelfth Night

 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy and All the Appearance of GoodnessClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.