BOOK OF CHRISTMAS - online book

The Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling,
And Festivities Of The Christmas Season.

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TWELFTH DAY AND NIGHT.
209
TWELFTH DAY, AND TWELFTH NIGHT.
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6TH JANUARY. •
Twelfth-day (so called from its being the twelfth after Christmas-day), is that on which the festival of the Epiphany is held. This feast of the Christian church was instituted, according to Picart, in the fourth century, to Commemorate the manifestation of our Saviour to the Gentiles ; and the name Epiphanywhich
signifies an appearance from above, was given to it, in allusion to the star described in Holy Writ, as the guide of the Magi, or wise men, to the cradle of the blessed Infant. " In Italy," says Mr. Leigh Hunt, " the word has been corrupted into Beffania or Bef-fana (as in England it used to be called PifFany); and Beffana, in some parts of that country, has come to mean an old fairy or Mother Bunch,—whose figure is carried about the streets, and who rewards or punishes children at night, by putting sweetmeats or stones and dirt, into a stocking, hung up for the purpose, near the bed's head. The word Beffa, taken from this, familiarly means a trick or mockery put upon any one ; to such base uses may come the most splendid terms !" But what is quite as extraordi­nary as that the primitive signification of a word, not familiarly understood, should, amid the revolution of centuries, be lost in a different, or distorted into an inferior meaning, is—the preserva­tion, in popular rites, of trivial details; which, as we have before stated, conclusively identify many of the practices of our modern Christian festivals, as echoes of ancient pagan observances. Of this, Twelfth-day presents a remarkable instance.
The more we examine the Saturnalia of the Romans, and com-pare those revels with the proceedings of our Twelfth-night, the more satisfied do we feel of the correctness of Selden's view.—
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