British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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24                                       TWELFTH-DAY.                             [JAN. 6.
This in memory of our Saviour and his Apostles, lights of the world."—Sir Henry Piers' Description of the County of Westmeath, 1682, in Vallancey's Collectanea de Bebus Hiber-nicis, vol. i. No. 1, p. 124.
Jan. 6.]                  TWELFTH DAY.
In its character as a popular festival, Twelfth Day stands only inferior to Christmas. The leading object held in view is to do honour to " the three wise men," or, as they are more generally denominated, 2the three kings." It is a Christian custom, ancient past memory, and probably suggested by a pagan custom, to indulge in a pleasantry called the Election of kings by beans. Some, however, maintain it to have been derived from the custom observed by the Eoman children, who, at the end of their saturnalia, drew lots with beans, to see who would be king.
In England in later times, a large cake was made, with a bean or silver penny inserted, and this was called Twelfth-cake. The family and friends being assembled, the cake was divided by lot, and whoever got the piece containing the bean was accepted as the king for the day, and called King of the Bean, it appears also that there was always a queen as well as a king on Twelfth-Night. A writer, speaking of the celebration in the South of England in 1774, says: "After tea a cake is produced, with two bowls containing the fortu­nate chances for the different sexes. The host fills up the tickets, and the whole company, except the king and queen, are to be ministers of state, maids of honour, or ladies of the bed-chamber. Often the host and hostess, more by design than accident, become king and queen. According to Twelfth Day law, each party is to support his character till midnight.'*
In the sixteenth century it would appear that some pecu­liar ceremonies followed the election of the king and queen. Barnaby Googe, in his paraphrase of the curious poem of
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