The last day of the Christmas dozen, a time for practical jokery, cake-eating, punch-guzzling, tree-thanking, and neighborhood wassailing. A few winters ago I was living in a small crawlspace in a crowded house in the Berkshires. One night, let's call it January 5th or 6th (for the actual Twelfth Night is contested), the phone rang. It was Susan Witt, keeper and queen of the then E.F. Schumacher Society (now New Economics Institute) where two of my housemates worked. She wanted us to come over and do a little wassailing around the orchard. This mostly amounted to caroling, banging on pots and pans, and drinking some sort of spiced mulled beverage. My roommates bundled up and headed out into the night, but I wasn't feeling well, and declined. This is something I have regretted ever since, and I'm not sure why.
I don't know much about the Twelfth Night or the wassailing that occurs then, but I like the sound of it. Here's what I do know:
- It involves weird alcoholic beverages. So you take some cider, or wine, or strong ale, or mead, or brandy, or whatever you've got hanging around that will give you a buzz, and you heat it up in a large pot (or hey, let's just call it a cauldron) and add sugar and nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves and what-have-you. Got some old fruit? Sure, throw it in there. Top it all of with some chunks of toast. Because who doesn't enjoying chewing their wine?
- If you want, you can dress up like this guy, and people will love it.
- It involves singing to trees. As a tree-hugger, I love the idea of serenading apple trees in the moonlight, chasing away evil spirits, and encouraging them to bloom and grow so that they may produce more fruit, for more cider, for more drunken midnight antics.
- It encourages tidiness. Yes, that's right. Bad luck if you don't take down your Christmas decorations by today. It's time to move on with the new year. Annnnd, the greatest part of this tradition is that you now get to eat those decorations! Finally! Back in the day, fruit wasn't always so easy to come by, so if you were going to put some oranges on a wreath, it was an investment. You were essentially just biding your time until the Twelfth Night. Granted, the invention of plastic has left a dubious haze on this particular tradition, but if you've got some popcorn chains or cranberry strings still dangling, now is the time to chow down.
- Oh, and this: Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty, Youth's a stuff will not endure.
Ah, William, you get the bitter with the sweet. Auld Lang Syne.
And a very Happy New Year to all.