|"Twelfth Night" by David Teniers the Younger (1634-40)|
The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25 and end on Epiphany, January 6. In the Middle Ages this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season.
During the twelve days of Christmas, traditional roles were often relaxed, masters waited on their servants, men were allowed to dress as women, and women as men. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. Some of these traditions were adapted from older, pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia. Some also have an echo in modern day pantomime where traditionally authority is mocked and the principal male lead is played by a woman, while the leading older female character, or 'Dame' is played by a man.
Everybody knows the hardy perennial
"The Twelve Days Of Christmas'.
Here is a rather different version in the form of
My dearest darling
That partridge, in that lovely little pear tree! What a
enchanting, romantic,poetic present! Bless you and thank you.
Your deeply loving Emily
Mr dearest darling Edward
The two turtle doves arrived this morning and are cooing
away in the pear tree as I write. I'm so touched and
With undying love, as always, Emily
My darling Edward
You do thinks of the most original presents: whoever
thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really
come all the way from France? It's a pity that we have no
chicken coops, but I expect we'll find some. Thank you,
anyway, they're lovely.
Your loving Emily
What a surprise - four calling birds arrived this morning.
They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly -
they make telephoning impossible. But I expect they'll calm
down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I'm very
grateful - of course I am.
Love from Emily
The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold
rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly. A
really lovely present -lovelier in a way than birds, which do
take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived
yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I'm afraid
none of us got much sleep last night. Mummy says she wants
us to use the rings to 'wring' their necks - she's only
joking, I think; though I know what she means. But I love
the rings. Bless you
Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door
this morning, it certainly wasn't six socking great geese
laying eggs all over the doorstep. Frankly, I rather hoped
you had stopped sending me birds - we have no room for them
and they have already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you
meant well, but - let's call a halt, shall we?
I thought I said no more birds; but this morning I woke up
to find no less than seven swans all trying to get into our
tiny goldfish pond. I'd rather not think what happened to
the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds - to
say nothing of what they leave behind them. Please, please
Frankly, I think I prefer the birds. What am I to do with
eight milkmaids - AND their cows? Is this some kind of a
joke? If so, I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing.
Look here Edward, this has gone far enough. You say you're
sending me nine ladies dancing; all I can say is that judging
from the way they dance, they're certainly not ladies. The
village just isn't accustomed to seeing a regiment of
shameless hussies with nothing on but their lipstick
cavorting round the green - and it's Mummy and I who get
blamed. If you value our friendship - which I do less and
less - kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once.
As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are
prancing abour all over what used to be the garden -before
the geese and the swans and the cows got at it; and several
of them, I notice, are taking inexcusable liberties with the
milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to have us
evicted. I shall never speak to you again.
This is the last straw. You know I detest bagpipes. The
place has now become something between a menagerie and a
madhouse and a man from the Council has just declared it
unfit for habitation. At least Mummy has been spared this
last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an
ambulance. I hope you're satisfied.
Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform
you that with the arrival on her premises a half-past seven
this morning of the entire percussion section of the
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and several of their friends
she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction
to prevent your importuning her further. I am making
arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.
I am, Sir, Yours faithfully,
Messrs. Sue, Grabbit & Run
John Julius Norwich