Twelfth Night: Festivity, Fantasy and Foolishness on the Path to Wisdom

Observance of Twelfth Night, like observance of Winter Solstice, pre-dates the Christian Era by thousands of years. Both observances were appropriated by and integrated into Christian belief and practice. In the Christian tradition, Twelfth Night marks the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, a day commemorating the viewing by the three Wise Men (Magi) of the infant Jesus. But long before that tradition was established, Twelfth Night (the inspiration for Shakespeare’s eponymous comedy) was an occasion marked by feasting, by toasting, and by revering the natural world. In Elizabethan England, it also was marked by revelry and humor targeting social norms and the established social order. These secular approaches to observing Twelfth Night survive even today, primarily in parts of the UK. As we start the New Year, let’s honor that spirit of observance, a lighthearted spirit prodding us to assess our priorities, our social roles, our accustomed ways of looking at the world, and our place in the natural order. Isn’t that what wise men, and wise women, would  as they set out to imagine the future?