My kids were very interested in the twelve days of Christmas year; every day they asked which one we were one, which gift is in the song for that day, and what special activity they were doing that day (play dough with their new play dough Christmas tree mats, painting to decorate a printed out tree, using their new Christmas stampers to make a scene, a trip to the park, etc). As we got closer to the 12th day of Christmas, I wondered what I could do to make that day really special for them. Now that our kids are old enough, it occurred to me that they could stay up a bit for a Twelfth Night celebration. So, what follows is how things came together this year so that we could celebrate Twelfth Night for the first time as a family.
First, my children get a group gift on the 12th day of Christmas. This began a few years ago when we simply didn’t make it through opening all the gifts on Christmas Day: I decided we could just save the big one under the tree for the 12th day to make it special. Every year since then, my kids have looked forward to finding out what that last gift under the tree is. This year, I decided they would need to wait until Twelfth Night instead of opening the gift that morning. To build anticipation, I thought about how we had celebrated the Christmas Eve Wigilia, and I used part of that Polish tradition by telling the kids that they would have to watch the sky to wait until the stars came out before they could open their present. All afternoon on January 5, my kids were waiting for the stars to come out so we could celebrate Twelfth Night.
I wondered what else we could do to make it special, so I searched online that day and found wassail as a traditional Twelfth Night drink, along with a spice cake for dessert. Perfect! I used to make wassail on Christmas Day, letting it simmer throughout the day. This year, I’d bought the supplies for it, but I was sick that day and the wassail didn’t get made. So, I pulled things out and made wassail for my family for Twelfth Night. Here is an amended recipe for an easy wassail I’ve been making for years with very few changes:
- insert whole cloves into an orange
- place clove-poked orange on un-greased baking pan and bake at 350F for 30 minutes
- in large saucepan, combine apple cider, lemon juice, cinnamon, and the juice of the other orange
- add the baked orange and simmer over low heat
- allow to simmer as fragrant potpourri, or serve once heated
The kids really enjoyed their wassail with dinner: a spicy apple juice. The other idea found online was to serve a spiced cake. I happened to have a box in the pantry, so I threw that together and baked it in a round bundt pan while I was baking the orange for the wassail. After the cake was cooked, I inserted a small candy cane to turn it into an Epiphany-style King cake with a hidden treasure. You could see a hole, so I threw together some melted butter, milk, and powdered sugar for a very simple icing drizzle. After dinner, the cake was divided into equal pieces and placed on plates on a round platter. We spun the platter while we sang the chorus of “I Saw Three Ships,” then the kids took whichever plate was closest to them. My husband and I both had the idea that whoever found the small candy cane would get to hold the group present and begin opening it when it was time to do so.
After my daughter found and ate the candy cane, our family headed to our chapel for Evening Prayer. We decided to make this night special by moving our wise men to our nativity scene. We generally do this on Epiphany, but it just felt right to add this little bit of special ceremony into what was turning out to be an almost magical night for our children. We sang “We Three Kings,” then prayed evening prayer. We then moved to the living room and the kids opened their group gift.
After half an hour or so of play time, we turned off all of the house lights and watched the colorful lights dance on our Christmas tree. We sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” then my children each requested their favorite Christmas song. They had fun dancing around and singing by Christmas tree light. Finally, keeping the house lights off, it was time to return to the chapel for night prayers and get ready for bed.
These things are all very simple, and very affordable, yet combined, they made for a very special evening for my children. Praise God for this inspiration and for bringing things together; I hope we continue these few traditions in the years to come.
May God bless you and your family this Epiphanytide!