Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Happy Twelfth Night
As some one who always loved camels, Twelfth Night and the idea of the visit of the Three Kings bearing gifts to every home has a special magic. In many traditions, hay or grass is left out at night to feed the camels as they make their long and arduous journey from home to home and continent to continent.
We always placed our shoes out on Twelfth Night and awakened to find them filled with coins, chocolates and sometimes small gifts. When I spoke to a woman from Puerto Rico, I discovered that they have a similar tradition.
They place hay or grass in a box beneath their beds on Twelfth Night, rather than putting out their shoes. The camels eat the grass/hay and the box is filled with treats. It is part of an entire celebration known as the Octavitas. For eight days after Twelfth Night, there is a tradition known as Parandiando, which involves carollers who walk through the neighbourhood singing carols. There is a special food item that is given during this ritual called 'Pastels'. When I heard the name, I envisioned some kind of small mint, but in fact, these are rather hefty savouries made with a vegetable batter mixed with pork, rolled into a plantain leaf. I never saw one nor tried one, but they sound delicious. The lady to whom I spoke actually was not very familiar with any of her traditions and had to ring her Mum for details when I asked. I wonder if our conversation will spark interest in exploring these festivals more fully...
Modern calendars are such peculiar institutions as few of them are based on natural events. Nowadays, it is more likely to find festivals moved to the nearest weekend or even to Monday to allow a 'bank holiday' to occur. The old rites of the Equinox and Solstice if they are celebrated at all usually are moved a little to suit big businesses and government institutions.
Today is Twelfth Night but it is Christmas Eve to members of Christian Orthodox communities. I would imagine that the majority of those who celebrate the visit of the Three Kings consider that this occurred last night. To me, however, it seems more logical that it would occur on the Orthodox Christmas Eve.
Is there any validity to any of these dates? If time is relative, then it is nothing more than an infusion of personal faith and tradition into a slot measured by artificial standards of some kind.
Dawn and Dusk are almost invisible in many areas where artificial light prevails. When individuals sleep through the dawning of a new day or continue to work after dark, the natural rhythms become lost. In most lands, there are no great Bonfires or sacrifices to mark the change of seasons or the movement of the celestial bodies.
I do believe in sacred times and sacred seasons, however. I believe that the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens do affect our spiritual lives and sometimes even our physical existence. If the Moon exerts an influence upon the tides of the great bodies of water known as the seas, surely the dance of the planets affects us whether we consciously note their existence or not.
I have included photographs here of the most exquisite Twelfth Night cake I ever have seen. It includes cascades of glorious flowers and tiny silver balls. It may have been even more beautiful without the writing but the message does make it clear that it was made for the Epiphany.
Twelfth Night is known as the Epiphany. It is the day on which the God Child became known to the world. Surrounded by Animals in the manger bed, worshipped by shepherds, born beneath a magical Star, the Child on Twelfth Night received the homage of three Kings from distant lands who saw the birth of the star and followed its path to Bethlehem.
And yet, in 2009, the heads of State of the most powerful nations choose to be blinded to the situation in the land where the Child was born. There are few celebrations in Palestine today. The Christian Palestinian communities are mainly Orthodox Christians and tonight is Christmas Eve. No lights have been lit this year and all public celebrations have been cancelled.
I will write about this elsewhere, however. I always try to keep politics from this site.
As far as the Twelfth Night Cake was concerned, to destroy a creation of such perfect beauty felt almost like a crime. One hesitated to cut it. Once the glorious perfection of the whole was marred, it would lose some of its breathtaking loveliness. There is magic in the form of the circle. It symbolises the fullness of the Moon when her power is at its greatest. A round cake that has been sliced, on the other hand...
Of course, if truly mouthwatering, the joy of consuming it would be compensation for the destruction of its beauty. Sad to say, seldom is food THAT beautiful truly delicious as well. I do not understand why it could not have been delectable but the fact of the matter is that the best memory will be in the photographs and not any memory of culinary delight. Perhaps the bakery should have one person to decorate and another to bake. The local supermarket makes a better cake as far as flavour is concerned.