Don't be embarrassed if your Christmas tree is still up. Christmas isn't over until after Friday, which is Twelfth Night, also called King's Night, Epiphany or the 12th day of Christmas. Tradition has it that the Magi, or Kings, arrived at the manger with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh on that day. Local Anglican churches focus on Christ as King on this date.
Twelfth Night begins officially at sunset on Jan. 5, according to the church calendar, which has the 12 Days of Christmas beginning at sunset on Dec. 25 and ending on Epiphany, Jan. 6.
Confusion about how to count the 12 days was common during the 20th century, as it remains today. One popular explanation is that Dec. 25 is not the first day of Christmas and that what we actually celebrate are the 12 days after Christmas. In the early decades of the 20th century, days and nights were counted separately, so the significant night often occurred the night before, rather than the night of the celebration; e.g., Christmas Eve or Halloween (All Hallow's Eve).
So if you start your count on Christmas Eve, Dec. 25 is the first day of Christmas, Dec. 26 is the second night, and so on.
Once the date and time for the celebration are set, it's time to find a way to do so.
The occasion used to be celebrated mightily - Shakespeare even wrote a play about a Twelfth Night revel. It's titled "Twelfth Night," and it's a comedy. He incorporated many of the customs - and pranks - still found in today's Twelfth Night celebrations. Among the Bard's plot elements are unrequited love, cross-dressing, overindulgence in food and drink, dancing, mistaken identities and hard partying.
During the Middle Ages, many Christians spent the period enjoying a non-stop party, climaxing on Twelfth Night, since it marked the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Carnival season, which terminates on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28 in 2017.
Locally, for the third year, Sumter's Church of the Holy Comforter will host an Epiphany service on Twelfth Night, Jan. 6. Father Marcus Kaiser, rector of Holy Comforter, said the service will involve several other Anglican churches in the area. The Rev. Charlie Walton, interim rector of St. Matthias Anglican Church in Summerton, will give the sermon, and clergy and congregations from St. Mary Magdalene in Camden, Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg and Epiphany in Eutawville will participate. The public is invited to attend.
Kaiser said the Feast of the Epiphany was once a bigger observance than Christmas.
"The main focus of the service, first of all, is about recognizing the divinity of Jesus Christ and him as king," he said.
Kaiser said the hour-long service will include Holy Communion and several "Epiphany carols," including "We Three Kings."
The 6 p.m. Friday service will be followed by a King Cake reception and a chili cookoff. The Rev. Joe Rhodes, priest associate, Kaiser said, has spent time in New Orleans and is particularly involved in this aspect of the Epiphany observance.
Baking special pastries is part of the Feast of Epiphany in many countries, and it's a very popular custom in New Orleans. The King Cake has a small figure of a plastic baby baked inside, and whoever gets it will receive a special blessing, Kaiser said.
Many parishioners, Kaiser and some others will enter their chili in the cookoff. Judges, including Capt. Eddie Newman of the Sumter Fire Dept., clergy who are not in the competition and a couple of community members will judge the contest, and those tasting the chilis can vote for their favorite by making a donation for Holy Comforter's outreach missions.
The Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter, on the southeast corner of Sumter's Main and West Calhoun streets, invites the public to attend its 6 p.m. Friday Epiphany service. For more information, call the church at (803) 773-3823.