Twelfth Night – or what you will

We don’t tend to celebrate Twelfth Night. For a start I can never work out whether it is the 5th or 6th January. For a second I am partied out and crave peace, simplicity, even solitude after the Christmas and New Year festivities. For a third, there is the business of a new school term to contend with along with the accompanying dreams of not being able to locate a class….or my notes….. or a set of marked books. You get the idea? These dreams never leave me before a new term starts, despite nearly thirty years of experience at the chalkface (or Smart board, as it is now). Finally it isn’t long till Hen Galan, traditionally the Welsh New Year which I’ve blogged about before.

If you feel the urge for a get together this weekend then I’m told that a galette is the cake to make complete with bean and pea secreted within its lusciousness and paper crowns for the King and Queen of Misrule. Charades is the game of choice. Someone pointed me in the direction of Mary Berry’s Twelfth Night cake, All fine and dandy if you can bear to mush up pineapple, snip dozens of dried apricots into tiny pieces and quarter a mound of glacé cherries. Not my way of achieving New Year zen, I can tell you.

At Country Gate we will be storing away the decs, relocating the tree in the front garden for the local hospice to collect for chipping and composting and sweeping up the detritus of the last two weeks. Clean sheets on everyone’s beds, freshly polished furniture and a cup of hot chocolate by the fire tonight is a fitting way to bring the season to a close. I have however snipped a few budding twigs from the front garden to frame some forced daffodil bulbs in an old bowl and topped it with moss scraped from the shady side of the terrace to celebrate the end of Christmas. If you didn’t think about planting daffs in pots weeks ago then think of me as your fairy godmother. Hear this! You can pick them up for a couple of quid in most garden centres and even some supermarkets now. It’s a great way for children to spend that last bit of pocket money Granny gave them before she went home. No tooth decay, no sugar rush and a thing of beauty to bring them joy in the dark days of January.

Twelfth Night – Tudor Style

Twelfth Night has come late for us this year as we’ve decided to celebrate it Tudor style as an aid to one of the apprentice’s homework. How convenient then that the National Trust should be holding just such an event at nearby Lacock Abbey last Sunday.

Unsurprisingly the celebrations were not that far removed from the ones we’d just enjoyed at home. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, rosemary , candles and orange pomanders festooned the nooks and crannies of the medieval cloisters. I always use rosemary in our decorations and I discovered that it has its roots in the belief that Mary placed the infant Jesus’s clothes over rosemary bushes to fragrance them whilst they dried.

The entertainment came in the form of traditional music and a Mummers play. Not at all raucous as the audience were very well-behaved but my children are more than capable of providing that unaided!

We came home to a  tea which included a special Twelfth Night cake  or King cake. Any cake recipe will do – I chose a basic  madeira as we’ve had enough rich chocolate and fruit cake to last until Easter. When you mix up the batter drop  a bean, coin or other small object into the batter. The man or boy who finds this object in his slice of cake is declared “King of the Bean.”  and ruled over proceedings. If a woman or girl receives the bean, she is queen and appoints a man as her king. Everyone else becomes a member of the royal court. We saved gold paper hats from Christmas for the king and queen to wear. I imagine this is where the tradition of lucky charms or coins in Christmas puddings and wearing paper crowns originates.

It’s a great way to extend the Christmas season and the assault on the senses – the colourful Mummers rag costumes, the sound of the bagpipes and lute, the smell of the rosemary, beeswax candles ,oranges and cloves, the feel of the holly leaves and the taste of the cake locks the whole experience into the memory ….and, as it happened resulted in a gold star for the homework!!

This week I’m off to wassail with the Anglo Saxons at a local school in their orchard. I’m just off to find my thickest thermals!.

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