Thursday, January 5, 2017

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) Madonna and Child with Singing Angels, detail

January 5th & 6th - England's wildly popular cakes & a few naughty boys

Twelfth Night in London streets” from The Book of Christmas illustrated by Robert Seymour 1836

By the early 19C, the Twelfth Night cake had evolved into a large & complicated display of cake, icing, & other embellishments. Bakeries displayed these models of the confectioner's art in their windows, & people gathered outside to admire them. The playful atmosphere of Twelfth Night may have encouraged schoolboys to carry out a Twelfth Night prank. Unnoticed among the throng of cake-admirers, they pinned the clothing of two adults together or nailed a gentleman's coattails to the windowsill. Then they stood back & enjoyed the confusion that arose when the pinned & nailed individuals attempted to leave the bakery window. 


George Cruikshanks Comic Almanac Exitement outside the pastry cook & confectioners shop window as people view the 12th night cakes

The tradition of cakes on Twelfth Night was so strong, that it became the busiest day of the year for bakers, as related in this 1827 extract from William Hone's Every-Day Book,
"In London, with every pastry-cook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is 'high change' on Twelfth-Day.  From the taking down of the shutters in the morning, he, and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers.  Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed.  Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand-lamps and manifold wax lights to illuminate countless cakes of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows.  The richest in flavour and the heaviest in weight and price are placed on large....salvers; ..... all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate.  Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milkmaids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms, in snow-white confectionary, painted with varigated colours, glittering by 'excess of light' reflected from mirrors against the walls."


The Every-day Book, 1827, Naughty Boys

January 5th & 6th - England's 12th Night Characters

During the late 1700s, sets of characters were available to purchase from enterprising stationers.

In the late 17C, the English diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) described his enjoyment of a new custom whereby Twelfth Night merrymakers drew slips of paper from a hat on which were written the names of characters found at the bean king's court. They were expected to impersonate this character for the rest of the evening. In this way everyone present at the celebration, not just the king & queen, got into the act. By the end of the 18C this innovation had almost completely replaced the earlier custom of planting a bean & a pea inside the Twelfth Night cake. In fact, it became so popular with ordinary folk that, by the end of the 18C, shops sold packets of cards & sheets of paper with names & drawings of characters printed on them. The absurd names given to these characters served to describe their exaggerated personalities. Examples included Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, Sir Gregory Goose, & Miss Fanny Fanciful. 

One anonymous writer in the Universal Magazine of 1774 wrote:
"I went to a friend's house in the country to partake of some of those innocent pleasures that constitute a Merry Christmas; I did not return until I had been present at drawing King and Queen, and eaten a slice of the Twelfth Cake.....A noble cake was produced, and two bowls, containing the fortunate chances for the different sexes.  Our host filled up the tickets; the whole company, except for the King and Queen, were to be ministers of state, maids of honour, or ladies of the bedchamber.  Our kind host and hostess, whether by accident or design, became King and Queen.  According to Twelfth Day law, each party is to support their character until midnight."

January 5h & 6th - The Bean King

Twelfth Night, the evening before Epiphany (January 6 - when the biblical kings reached the newborn Christ Child), was a final frenzy of Christmas feasting, drinking & raucous merry making before the community returned to its daily working grind for the rest of the winter.


Jacob Jordaens, The Bean King. 1635-55.

In medieval & Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve — now more commonly known as Halloween. The Lord of Misrule symbolized the world turning upside down. On this day the King & all those who were high would become the peasants & vice versa. At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival, a cake that contained a bean & perhaps a pea was eaten. The male who found the bean would rule the feast as a king. Midnight signaled the end of his rule, & the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition dates back to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain & the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.  In some places, particularly south-western England, Old Twelfth Night is celebrated on 17 January. This continues the custom on the date determined by the old Julian calendar.  In England, the lord of the manor was charged with the solemn responsibility of providing the Twelfth Night cakes for his tenant families. This usually informal practice achieved the status of law at the village of North Curry, Somerset, in 1314.


 Jacob Jordaens, The Bean King. ca. 1640-45

Dancing, clowning, & consuming prodigious quantities of liquor and food, the celebrants followed the practice of crowning one of themselves "king" to rule over the 12th Night's celebrations.  Those who donned the crown were also expected to treat their fellow revelers to a round of drinks.  During the Renaissance, some of the most splendid feasts of the Christmas season occurred at the homes of the wealthy on Twelfth Night. In England King Henry VIII (1491-1547) appears to have introduced the Italian custom of celebrating Twelfth Night with masques. These elaborate costumed events featured the enactment of some simple scenes or tableaux using song, dance, flowery speeches, & fancy scenery. The masques performed at court were short, simple, & sometimes frivolous works designed to raise as much laughter as possible while providing a colorful spectacle. These productions were very popular during the Christmas season, but they were also performed at other times of year. The famous writer Ben Jonson (1572-1637) offered a Christmas masque - Christmas His Masque - to be performed at court in the year 1616. In England the Twelfth Night masque reached its zenith in the early 17C and then began to decline. 


Jan Miense Molenaer (1610-1668) Twelfth Night 1660

At some point, this tradition gave rise to the creation of the "12th Night Cake" or the "King Cake" (after the Biblical kings) -- an often-ornate confection into which a bean, a coin or a tiny carved or cast metal version of the Baby Jesus was placed.  In English & French custom, the Twelfth-cake was baked to contain a bean and a pea, so that those who received the slices containing them should be designated king & queen of the night's festivities.  During early evening ceremonies, the cake was cut and its pieces distributed to guests who were advised to chew carefully. The person who found the icon then became the king or queen of 12th Night. Sometimes the designated king of the festivities was called the Bean King.


The King Drinks

Samuel Pepys recorded a party in London on Epiphany night, 6 January 1659/1660, & described the role the cake played in the choosing of a "King" & "Queen" for the occasion: "...to my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, & sister, my cousin Scott & his wife, Mr. Drawwater & his wife, & her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, & in the choosing, Pall was Queen & Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife & I bid adieu & came home, it being still a great frost." The choosing of King & Queen from the pie, usually by the inclusion of a bean & a pea, was a traditional English 12th Night festivity. The cake was called a "12th Cake", "Twelfth-night cake", or "Twelfth-tide cake."


Twelfth Night - Jan Steen -1662

By the late 18C in England and America, the selection of 12th Night's "royalty" was also alternately accomplished by the distribution of paper slips with each piece of cake. The slips were opened and the person holding the one with a special mark inside was declared king.  Some believe this paper ballot tradition was instituted as a matter of safety to prevent often-inebriated & distracted guests from inadvertently choking to death on hard beans, coins or a cast metal Jesus hidden in wads of cake.


Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) by David Teniers c. 1634-1640

Traditionally, groups of family & friends may have "king cake parties" through the Carnival season between Epiphany & the day before Lent. In Portugal & France, whoever gets the King cake trinket is expected to buy the next cake for these get-togethers.


Twelfth Night, Jan Steen, 1668

The King Cake is a popular food item during the Christmas season (Christmas Eve to Epiphany) in Belgium, France, Quebec & Switzerland (galette or gâteau des Rois or galette des rois), Portugal (bolo rei), Spain, & Spanish America (roscón or rosca de reyes & tortell in Catalonia), Greece & Cyprus (vasilopita) & Bulgaria (banitsa). 


Twelfth Night or 'The King Drinks' - Peter Paul Rubens

In the United States, Carnival is traditionally observed in the Southeastern region of the country, particularly in New Orleans, Saint Louis, Mobile, Pensacola, Galveston, & other towns & cities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In this region, the king cake is closely associated with Mardi Gras traditions & is served throughout the Carnival season, from Epiphany Eve to Fat Tuesday.


Le gâteau des Rois, by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1774

Related culinary traditions are the tortell of Catalonia; the gâteau des Rois or reiaume in Provence; or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France, & the Greek & Cypriot vasilopita. The galette des Rois is made with puff pastry & frangipane (while the gâteau des Rois is made with brioche & candied fruits).  The gâteau des Rois is known as Rosca de Reyes in Mexico.

January 5th & 6th Celebrations in Colonial British America

When the British settled in colonial America, many brought their Twelfth Night celebrations with them. In the 18C colonies, Twelfth Night parties frequently took place in regions where large numbers of English colonists had settled, such as Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, & Pennsylvania. These celebrations were especially popular with members of the Church of England (later the Episcopal Church) but not among the New England Puritans, who found them too frivolous & not at all religious. 


Twelfth Night by Isaac Cruikshank 1756-1811, London  Pub 1794 by Laurie & Whittle, No. 53 Fleet Street, London

Among the wealthy in the middle & southern colonies, many celebrated Twelfth Night with formal balls. These balls usually featured a bountiful buffet table of such delicacies as Twelfth Night Cake, roasted meats, root vegetables, candied fruit, cookies, fritters, & New Year's pie. This last item was an elaborate dish prepared by placing a beef tongue into a boned chicken, wedging the chicken into a boned duck, stuffing the duck into a boned turkey, cramming the turkey into a boned goose; & then roasting the stuffed goose in an oven. 

Just as in Europe, colonial & early American cooks often placed a bean & a pea inside their Twelfth Night cakes as a means of selecting a Twelfth Night king & queen. If there was only a bean in the cake & a woman found it in her piece, she got to chose the king of the evening.

In colonial & early America, the Christmas season, capped by the celebration of Twelfth Night, served as a favorite time of year for weddings. Twelfth Nightballs offered young, single people the chance to meet & to interact freely, & hopefully, to find a mate. This goal was facilitated by the fact that the parties usually featured dancing & some form of masking, as well as card & dice games. Indeed, some balls were designed exclusively as affairs for the young. One very famous colonial romance led to a marriage scheduled for Epiphany. George Washington (1732-1799) and his bride, Martha Dandridge Custis (17321802), married on January 6, 1759.


The importance of Twelfth Night celebrations in the American colonies is illustrated in the papers of George Washington. On Christmas Day, Washington usually attended a church service, after which he would spend the day sorting through other year-end business matters of his plantation.  But, George & Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night in 1759 in Williamsburg. Washington's records indicate that he & his wife Martha often entertained groups of relatives and friends throughout that day.  Martha Washington's papers, preserved at Mt. Vernon, include her recipe for a huge Twelfth Night cake that included 40 eggs, four pounds of sugar, & five pounds of dried fruits.

Nicholas Cresswell,  who was an Englishman who spent years in Virginia and kept a journal, wrote while in Alexandria on December 25, 1774: “Christmas Day but little regarded here.”   Cresswell did, however, attend a ball on Twelfth Night: "There was about 37 Ladys Dressed and Powdered to the like, some of them very handsom, and as much Vanity as is necessary. All of them fond of Dancing. But I do not think they perform it with the greatest elleganse. Betwixt the Country Dances they have What I call everlasting Jiggs. A Couple gets up, and begins to dance a Jig (to some Negro tune) others comes and cuts them out, these dances allways last as long as the Fiddler can play. This is social but I think it looks more like a Bacchanalian dance then one in a polite Assembly. Old Women, Young Wifes with young Children on the Laps, Widows, Maids, and Girls come promsciously to these Assemblys which generally continue til morning. A Cold supper, Punch, Wine, Coffee, and Chocolate, But no Tea. This is a forbidden herb. The men chiefly Scotch and Irish. I went home about Two Oclock, but part of the Company stayd got Drunk and had a fight."

Famously weathy Robert Carter of Nomini Hall had hired New England tutor Philp Fithian to teach his children.  Fithian's journal entry of December 29 of that same year he wrote “we had a large Pye cut today to signify the conclusion of the Holidays.”


Those who did not celebrate Christmas deplored the idea of a Twelfth Night ball.  Mordecai Noah, who published a book on home economics in the year 1820, decried the wasteful custom of Twelfth Night feasting:  "What a sum to be destroyed in one short hour! The substan-tials on this table, consisting of a few turkeys, tongues, hams, fowls, rounds of beef and game, all cold, could have been purchased for fifty dollars; the residue of this immense sum was expended for whips, creams, floating islands, pyramids of kisses, temples of sugarplumbs, ices, blanc manges, macaroons and plumb cake; and ladies of delicacy, of refined habits, of soft and amiable manners, were at midnight, cloying their stomachs, after exercise in dancing, with this trash." 


For further Twelfth Night & Epiphany information see:

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. 

Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. 

Christmas in Colonial and Early America. Chicago: World Book, 1996. 

Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. 

Crippen, T.G. Christmas and Christmas Lore. 1923. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations. 2nd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2003.

Hadfield, Miles, and John Hadfield. The Twelve Days of Christmas. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Company, 1961. 

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. 

Henisch, Bridget Ann. Cakes and Characters: An English Christmas Tradition. London, England: Prospect Books, 1984. 

Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. 

MacDonald, Margaret Read, ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1992. 

Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition. 1912. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Muir, Frank. Christmas Customs and Traditions. New York: Taplinger, 1977. 

Pimlott, J. A. R. The Englishman's Christmas. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978. 

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. 

Weaver, William Woys. The Christmas Cook. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990.

January 5th & 6th - Celebrations in 1835-6 London

Twelfth Night from The Book of Christmas illustrated by Robert Seymour 1836

In 1835, Leigh Hunt published an account of Twelfth Nights past in his London Journal.


Christmas Goes out in Fine Style


"Christmas goes out in fine style,—with Twelfth Night. It is a finish worthy of the time. Christmas Day was the morning of the season; New Year’s Day the middle of it, or noon ; Twelfth Night is the night, brilliant with innumerable planets of twelfth cakes. The whole island keeps court; nay, all Christendom. All the world are kings & queens. Everybody is somebody else, & learns at once to laugh at, & to tolerate, characters different from his own, by enacting them. Cakes, characters, forfeits, lights, theatres, merry rooms, little holiday faces, & last not least, the painted sugar on the cakes, so bad to eat but so fine to look at, useful because it is perfectly useless except for a sight & a moral,—all conspire to throw a giddy splendor over the last night of the season, & to send it to bed in pomp & colors, like a Prince.


"Twelfth-cake & its king & queen are in honor of the crowned heads who are said to have brought presents to Jesus in his cradle—a piece of royal service not necessary to be believed in by good Christians, though very proper to be maintained among the gratuitous decorations with which good & poetical hearts willingly garnish their faith. “The Magi, or Wise Men, are vulgarly called the three kings of Collen (Cologne). The first, named Melchior, an aged man with a long beard, offered gold; the second, Jasper, a beardless youth, offered frankincense; the third, Balthaser, a black or moor, with a large spreading beard, offered myrrh.” This picture is full of color, & has often been painted. The word Epiphany (Eirifaitiat, ivperapparllio, an appearance from above), alludes to the star which is described in the Bible as guiding the Wise Men. In Italy, the word has been corrupted into Beffania, or Beffana, (as in England it used to be called Piffany) ; & Beffana, in some parts of that country, has come to mean an old fairy, or Mother Bunch, whose figure is carried about the streets, & who rewards or punishes children at night by pulting sweetmeats, or stones & dirt, into a stocking hung up for the purpose near the bed’s head. The word Beffa, taken from this, familiarly means a trick or mockery put upon anyone — to such base uses may come the most splendid terms. Twelfth Day, like the other old festivals of the church of old, has had a link of connection found for it with Pagan customs, & has been traced to the Saturnalia of the ancients, when people drew lots for imaginary kingdoms. Its observation is still kept up, with more or less ceremony, all over Christendom. In Paris, they enjoy it with their usual vivacity. The king there is chosen, not by drawing a paper as with us, but by the lot of a bean which falls to him, & which is put into the cake; & great ceremony is observed when the king or the queen ” drinks;” which once gave rise to a jest, that occasioned the damnation of a play of Voltaire’s. The play was performed at this season, & a queen in it having to die by poison, a wag exclaimed with Twelfth Night solemnity, when her Majesty was about to take it, “The queen drinks.” The joke was infectious; & the play died, as well as the poor queen.


"Many a pleasant Twelfth-Night have we passed in our time; & such future Twelfth-Nights as may remain to us shall be pleasant, God & good-will permitting; for even if care should be round about them, we have no notion of missing these mountaintops of rest & brightness, on which people may refresh themselves during the stormiest parts of life’s voyage.


"We spent a Twelfth Night once, which, by common consent of the parties concerned, was afterwards known by the name of The Twelfth Night. It was doubted among us, not merely whether ourselves, but whether anybody else, ever had such a Twelfth Night;


"The evening began with such tea as is worth mention, for we never knew anybody make it like the maker. Dr Johnson would have given it his placidest growl of approbation. Then, with piano-forte, violin, & violoncello, came Handel, Corelli, & Mozart. Then followed the drawing for king & queen, in order that the “small infantry” might have their due share of the night, without sitting up too too-late (for a reasonable “too-late” is to be allowed once & away). Then games, of all the received kinds, forgetting no branch of Christmas customs. And very good extempore blank verse was spoken by some of the court {for our characters imitated a court), not unworthy of the wit & dignity of Tom Thumb. Then, came supper, & all characters were soon forgotten but the feaster’s own; good & lively souls, & festive all, both male & female,—with a constellation of the brightest eyes that we bad ever seen met together…


"The bright eyes, the beauty, the good humor, the wine, the wit, the poetry (for we had celebrated wits & poet’s among us, as well as charming women), fused all hearts together in one unceasing round of fancy & laughter, till breakfast,—to which we adjourned in a room full of books, the authors of which might almost have been waked up & embodied, to come among us. Here, with the bright eyes literally as bright as ever at six o’clock in the morning (we all remarked it), we merged one glorious day into another, as a good omen (for its was also fine weather, though in January) ; & as luck & our good faith would have it, the door was no sooner opened_ to let forth the ever-joyous visitors, than the trumpets of a regiment quartered in the neighborhood struck up into the morning air, seeming to blow forth triumphant approbation, & as if they sounded purely to do us honor, & to say ” You are as early & untired as we.”

Morning Madonna

January Hermansz. van Biljert (Dutch artist, c 1597-1671) Madonna and Child 1635

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.