Sunday, January 6, 2013

Twelfth Night and the Feast of Epiphany

From another British writer of Christmas Carols, William Chatterton Dix (1836-1898):

As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

B.E.R. (Before the English Reformation), Twelfth Night/Epiphany (January 5/6) was the last great day of processions, feasts, festivity, and fun--the yule log burned until the end of the Feast and spicy foods (representing the eastern magi) were part of the feast. Twelfth Night/Epiphany marked the end of Christmastide. Some of the customs of the King of the Bean and the wassail remained and Shakespeare's 1602 play Twelfth Night or What you Will expresses the confusion and folly of the day (with the disguise of Viola and the elaborate trick on Malvolio). January 7 was called St. Distaff Day, meaning it was time to get back to work, clean up the mess, and settle down to normal life.

Also B.E.R., the Monday following Epiphany was Plough Monday, when farmers and their families would pray the blessing of God through their favorite saints for good crops. They would beg alms to purchase the votive candles to light before the statues of the saints and offer their prayers for intercession. A.E.R. (After the English Reformation) when the statues were gone, the farmers continued to beg for the alms, except now they just bought ale and got drunk! (According to Christine Chaundler's A Year Book of Customs).


  1. Beautiful post. I loved poetic verse. I am learning so much about the English Reformation!

    Fran Blake

  2. Crusading MedievalistJanuary 6, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    Didn't Dix also write the words to the carol 'What Child is This'? I understand that the melody is from much earlier.

    1. Yes, he did! The melody "Greenselves" dates from the 16th century.

    2. There is another setting of William Chatterton Dix's "What Child is This?"--by Thomas Hewitt Jones:

      I think it may be even more evocative of the text.