Twelfth Night

The night of January 5, the vigil or eve of Epiphany, is so called because it is the twelfth night from Christmas, if Christmas is counted as the first. (The Twelve Days are not calculated in the same way everywhere. In some places Christmas is counted making Epiphany the thirteenth day. In England it is particularly confusing because January 6 is Twelfth Day but January 5 is Twelfth Night.)

In England, Twelfth Night had long been a period of partying marking the end of the Christmas season. Masquerading was a common activity on Twelfth Night along with dancing, cross-dressing, and gambling. It was a time of social inversion when a mock king was elected to supervise the misrule. 

By the nineteenth century its reputation of riotousness was working against it and Twelfth Night was losing out to Christmas as the date for festivities. Victorian values were making the season more respectable and domestic. The gender-swapping and role reversals were theatricalized and absorbed by the pantomime where they became harmless family fare.

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