Well Happy New Year and all that shebang to you. Did you spend New Year’s Eve partying until the wee small hours? Or did you, like me, have a couple of drinks and then because you had to get up with small people at some ungodly hour, decide that discretion was the better part of valour, and toddle off to bed? Resolutions? Resolution not to make any more resolutions? Diet? Gym membership? Whatever you did, whatever promises you made, we now all find ourselves six days into 2017. Most people weren’t all that sorry to see the back of 2016.
Yesterday was Twelfth Night. For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it is traditional to get decorations put away by this date. Some of us were trying to cram our artificial tree back into the box, cursing whilst we pressed the branches of it down, and then, like an overstuffed suitcase, sat on the box or bag whilst taping it up, vowing to get a real tree next year. Others of us were debating the best way to get the real Christmas tree into the recycling bin without depositing pine needles all over the house, deep in the knowledge that in spite of this effort, we will be finding them from now until August, often in places that the tree had not been. But I think we should all spare a thought for the poor soul who, if the song is to be believed, had an excessively needy lover, and was taking delivery of, amongst other things, twelve drummers drumming and a very distressed partridge in a pear tree.
So Mr Shakespeare, what is Twelfth Night all about? In a departure from botox and wearing as little as possible, should the ladies in the party get a stick on beard and dress up as men in order to get someone fall in love with them? Meanwhile, should the men retire to a chaise longue so they can drape their hands dramatically over their foreheads claiming to be sick with love, that love being sick because their football team is not doing all that well at moment?
I have consulted Mr/s Wikipedia on this subject, and Twelfth Night is observed by Christians, who are a type of Christian would you believe? It’s significance is that it is the evening before Epiphany and the observance is supposed to be merrymaking. I don’t think we’ll have any objections so far. Continuing, it is traditional to hide a pea and a bean in the Christmas Cake and whichever of the merrymakers discovers this pea or bean may be King or Queen for the night. One is also to partake of wassail, which is a punch, not to be confused with wassailing, which you are also supposed to do, and you either subject your neighbours to it door to door or apple trees to in an orchard, in order to wish for a good harvest. So if you were wondering what all that hullaballoo around the apple trees down the bottom of your neighbour’s garden was last night, now you know.
So today is the first day of Epiphany for Christians. In the West, it is to celebrate the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, and the physical manifestation of God in his son, Jesus. In the East, it is to celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan . If you make your way through the whole of the Wikipedia entry on it, you won’t be surprised to learn that different people do it differently, some people not at all, and that it has been a subject for discussion, disagreement and debate for many hundreds of years.
However, pressing on in a uncontroversial manner, popular Epiphany customs include singing, chalking the door, having one’s house blessed, eating Three King’s Cake and winter swimming. Again, I don’t think we’ll have any objections (particularly the cake), apart from the last one. It was minus one degree when I walked the dog this morning. And I was so well wrapped you could barely tell I was human. No. Just no. Let’s go swimming in July instead. Somewhere warm.
In order to give you chapter and verse, I have furtled about in my bookcase and brushed off my Dictionary of Etymology to give you the meaning of the word ‘epiphany’. It is from the Greek, ‘epiphaneia’, meaning manifestation or striking appearance, which was applied in the case of the New Testament to the advent or manifestation of Christ; a perfect use of the word for those circumstances. It may be used in other circumstances without a capital letter in the general sense of any striking manifestation or revelation. And manifestations may be good or bad. In popular conscience, 2016 will be remembered for being full of bad ones.
I’m apprehensive about 2017, I think we all are. No one seems to want to tell the man who is to become the President of the United States that he has the most ridiculous hairstyle. Just how bad is it going to be if he is that deluded about his hair? And Nigel. Not elected to represent anything or anyone and yet the media insist on defiling my television screen on a regular basis with the odious twerp. And I am sorry to put her in the same paragraph as him, but my mother is having yet another bout of chemotherapy to try and blast the tumour in her lung out. I wonder, as she must, just how many more times her body can withstand the assault. My sister is worrying about her job. I worried about mine for seven years in the recession and I would do almost anything to take that worry away from her. On the other hand, one of my dearest friend’s will complete her first year of teaching, something she has wanted, and waited to do in the whole of the eighteen years that I have known her. Watching someone you love change from working in a job that they want to do, rather than a job they have to do is joyous. Another friend, whom I admit I nagged to do some exams, will pass more of those exams this year. My sister’s job will be okay. My eldest child will go away for their first residential school trip – the entire class is far too excited already – and they won’t wash or sleep for the whole five days, but they will have the most brilliant time. These are the things that I know. On the thirteenth day. Everything else is a epiphany waiting to happen.