By Lauren Elliott
Traditions play an important role as we prepare for the busy upcoming holiday season. Given that in America, seasonal marketing and holiday celebrations start to take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, most people have the misconception that the twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days leading up to Christmas Day. Which in turn make those few weeks even more hectic as we tend to get lost in the holiday hubbub—with all the shopping, decorating, social gatherings, cooking, and the baking demands on our time. It becomes far too easy to forget those traditions held most dear—the ones that bring us joy and closer together as a family and a community.
This is when it’s especially important for us take a deep breath and reflect. History brings meaning to celebrations and traditions are memories, a link between our generations. So, here is something to reflect on. The century’s old tradition of celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas, actually occurred in the days following Christmas Day and continued to the Epiphany, Twelfth Night, on January 6th. The date regarded by Christians as being when the three Wise Men — or Magi — came to see the Christ child in Bethlehem. Although it isn’t as popular of a concept in America as in some other countries like France, Spain, and the United Kingdom, there are still pockets in North America that to this day honor the ancient European holiday celebrations. This could be the perfect time of the year for you and your community to try a new tradition by rethinking a forgotten one.
It was through this old-world tradition that the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” came into being as the twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany were packed with gift giving, parties, golden rings, calling birds, various kinds of gentry, and musicians. January sixth, the Twelfth Night of Christmas, represented the official closing of the holiday festivities and came with its own rituals and symbols.
For example, carolers would go from house to house bringing joy and good cheer to many through their songs. Families would generally take down their Christmas trees on the twelfth day, and that night to mark the end of the holiday season, they would celebrate with huge feasts, dancing, music, and plays; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was always a popular one. For many communities, this also meant on January 6th the local Christmas trees were collected and then burnt in a large community bonfire celebration.
Even though we have all but lost the history associated with the twelve days of Christmas, in my latest book, A Page Marked for Murder, residents of Greyborne Harbor, Massachusetts, still honor the twelfth day as many other American communities do through their potluck dinners, family dances, and food festivals. The citizens of Greyborne Harbor celebrate the old-world tradition through their annual Fire and Ice Festival, an event that plays a vital role in reinforcing their close community values and instill in residents and visitors a sense of belonging.
Even though the Twelfth Night Christmas tree burning had been a long-standing tradition in Greyborne Harbor, under the direction of Addie’s great-aunt Anita, the town opted years ago to incorporate a weekend ice carving festival along with the tree burning and fireworks display on the beach. You see, Addie’s aunt had spent many years traveling the world, and one year she made a trip to the Québec City Winter Carnival. It was said that she had been so taken by the craftsmanship and beauty of the ice sculptures, that it didn’t take her long to convince the town council to add an ice sculpture competition to the two days leading up to the annual Twelfth Night community Christmas tree burning bonfire.
I think we can all agree that no matter our heritage and how we celebrate the holiday season, traditions play an essential role in our lives. They are a bridge between generations, a way to become closer to our neighbors and our friends, and they help us to create a sense of community and belonging—something we all want to feel especially at this holiday time of the year. If your family or community doesn’t celebrate the Twelfth Night, perhaps it is something you could incorporate into your holiday traditions. Make what was old new again while creating great memories to pass down through the generations to come.
In Lauren Elliott’s fifth Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery, a murder and a missing first edition of The Secret Garden have rare bookstore owner Addie Greyborne running around her Massachusetts town trying to read the clues…
January isn’t the season for the seaside, but the big Fire and Ice festival is keeping bookstore owner Addie busy. Amid the plans for a fireworks display and an ice-carving competition, she’s also dog sitting for a friend in the hospital. When Addie goes to her friend’s house to gather supplies, she notices an interesting item on the nightstand which belongs to her shop assistant, Paige: a very valuable copy of the beloved children’s book The Secret Garden.
But Addie’s blood runs cold when she finds something else: a dead body behind the bakery next door to her shop. Martha, the bakery owner, has no alibi–and has been seen in a heated argument with the victim. And the next thing Addie knows, that first edition has gone missing. Is there a connection between the body and the treasured tome? If there is, it’s up to Addie to find a killer with a motive as hidden as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous garden . . .