Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy Twelfth Night!

There was a great social media post earlier today: "Because it's Twelfth Night, Nature has decided to become the Lord of Misrule." (Hence the -60 windchills tomorrow, etc.) And that got me thinking a bit about the Elizabethan calendar--which seems to have a whole different attitude toward winter than we do now. While they celebrated the New Year on March 25th, with lots of fancy gifts to the queen, we've decided to plonk the same holiday just a week after Christmas, when our weather is at its coldest, and the nightly darkness hasn't really begun to recede. I'm beginning to wonder if the Elizabethans didn't have the right idea: spread out the holidays, and celebrate newness when the daffodils are actually coming up.

There's another ramification, as well. Because our New Year (January 1) actually happens before Twelfth Night/Epiphany, we tend to bundle both celebrations up into one snowy/cold idea of renewal, mystery, and frenetic buying of fitness equipment--that is, if we even think about Twelfth Night at all any more. For the Elizabethan court, though, Twelfth Night (associated with the gifts delivered by the Magi to the Christ Child) was a time of snuggly indoor dramatic revelry, with carbtastic cakes and momentary reversals of position. As a release valve in the middle of the winter season, Twelfth Night provided a way to confront the dullness and unrelentingness of winter, without implying that one was supposed to feel renewed, or even "new," in the midst of subzero temperatures. As a person who gravitates toward warmth and little flowers, I like this idea.

However: the best thing, I think, would be to combine the Elizabethan and contemporary New Year celebrations, while keeping Twelfth Night (preferably with lots of plays by Shakespeare). All that needs to happen is for March weather to start in January. (Or, failing that, maybe I could try to grow some early daffodils.)