The Twelve Days of Christmas (Chaos)

Dec 17, 2010 by

By Lisa Campion

How is your Holiday Season going?  Mine is really lovely this year, but I am pretty sure that is because I have relaxed my standards to the point of “almost none” and that I have a naturally high tolerance for chaos. Plus, I am cultivating the ability to enjoy the moment, no matter what is going on. Low standards, high tolerance for chaos, mindfulness – all equals Happy Christmas, at least in my book.

I expect a certain amount of chaos to go along with the Holidays and in fact can enjoy some of the spontaneous moments that chaos can create. Like Ralphie’s family in the movie “A Christmas Story” who end up eating Chinese Christmas Goose after the Bumpus’s dogs eat their turkey. In fact, I see a very important role that chaos plays in our lives.

I think chaos helps us relax when we get too uptight and if anything is going to crank up the Sphincter O Meter to ten, it’s the Holidays.

I am fascinated by our old and long forgotten holiday traditions. I love that many of the things we do at Christmas come from the old holiday of Yule, the Winter Solstice.  There is mistletoe, the holly and the ivy and of course, Christmas trees.  (Let’s face it, only a really pagan holiday would put an evergreen tree in the house in the middle of the winter.)  I love the Yule log, burned on this solar holiday to chase the dark away on the shortest day of the year. And I totally dig that chaos has had an official place in this holiday since the pre-Christian, roman days

Did you know that our Christmas holiday has a crazy trickster as part of its almost forgotten mythology?  His name is the Lord of Misrule and his job was to turn the holiday season upside down. It was the Lord of Misrule who started the tradition of Christmas being a time of chaos and drunken debauchery. (That is what it said in Wikipedia. “Drunken debauchery.”  Really.)

Good to know things haven’t changed much! Speaking of drunken debauchery, the “wassail” of the Christmas carol is a drink of mulled wine, mead or hard cider that was part of the Twelfth Night celebrations of the holiday season. “Wassailing” was a custom in medieval England of wandering around the town, quaffing mulled wine, engaging in the above mentioned drunken debauchery and singing to trees. Apple trees. Apparently they grow better apples if enough wassailing happens.

In Scotland, The Lord of Misrule was called the Abbott of Unreason and in France he was the Prince des Sots. His role was to preside over a huge party called the Feast of Fools. Pretty sure I have been to that party, but hey, it was UMASS in the 80’s so what can I say. (What happens at UMASS stays at UMASS…)

I so think Hallmark has missed the Feast of Fools as a major holiday. It is all about the twelve days of Christmas and what they really mean.  We know the twelve days of Christmas as a carol that has a lot of calling birds, French hens and golden rings and an entire menagerie of animals and happy dancing people in it. But what exactly are the twelve days of Christmas?

All the TV stations are doing the twelve days of Christmas before the holidays, but actually, the twelve days of Christmas happens AFTER Christmas.  Traditionally (depending on what part of the world you are from…) the Christmas tree and decorations would be put up on Christmas Eve (not the day after Thanksgiving) and would stay up through New Years and to Twelfth Night, January 6th, which is the feast of Epiphany in the Catholic liturgy.

Those are the real twelve days of Christmas, between Christmas Day and Epiphany, which was honored by the Feast of the Fools.

It’s a fun sounding feast. On that night there would be a big party with the Lord of Misrule in charge, and many of the regular roles of society would be reversed. Servants would be the boss for a day and householders might serve them.  It sounds in fact like a really wild party, full of, as I mentioned, chaos and drunken debauchery.

The night’s festivities were lead by this crazy dude, the Lord of Misrule, a trickster like character, who could turn the normal orderly world on it’s head. The Lord of Misrule was chosen by eating cake! Hello. Best party ever!

This cake made with fruit and nuts was called King’s Cake. (Fruit cake!  It’s omnipresent. In fact someone is still probably passing around the very same fruitcake from the middle ages.)  It was baked with a bean inside it and whoever got the bean in their piece of cake was appointed the Lord of Misrule for the evening.  Sometimes a pea was included along with the bean, and whoever got the pea was the Queen for the evening.  In some parts of the world, this Feast of Fools is the beginning of Mardi Gras.

Shakespeare wrote a play about Twelfth Night, in which the Lord of Misrule takes over and women dress as men, servants become the nobleman, all roles are reversed and chaos rules.  Sounds like an excellent party. And this play was performed on Twelfth night for basically ever, until TV and sappy Christmas movies were invented.

Personally, I think the Feast of Fools sounds more fun then watching twelve nights of silly Christmas movies on TV.  But it did make me wonder what would happen if the Lord of Misrule stopped by my house this Holiday Season.  Would the dog meow and the cats bark?  Would the parents be in charge while the children took orders from them? (haha…)

We have trickster characters in all parts of the world, and their job is to knock us out of our routines, to break up the pattern, to crack our rigid thinking and create openings in our hearts and in our minds. Chaos is wonderful at inviting rigid thinking and rules to relax, to let the lower parts of the self out to play. It lets the masters serve the servants and in this, the lower self gets expressed. Which is a good thing, since it is really the only part of us that knows how to have any fun at all.

I had a conversation the other day with my BFF’s from my girls night out posse and we all decided that it’s trying to conform to everyone’s expectations about the Holidays that robs the season of fun. And there are so many expectations to be met!  Somehow we have to tow the line, spend the right amount of money, not too much, not too little. And we are supposed to eat holiday food and drink without gaining weight. Not to mention juggling all the needs of our complex families while somehow everyone must have a good time with no hurt feelings. Everyone’s needs must be met to fit an idealized image of a happy holiday.

Ugh. Makes me queasy just thinking about trying to fulfill a perfect Happy Family Holiday picture. No wonder the Lord of Misrule seems like such fun. I think it’s a handy concept to have in your back pocket when the inevitable chaos breaks into the hallowed family traditions. You can just blame it on the Lord of Misrule.  I hope this guy drops by to remind us all not to get too uptight about the holidays.

Here is my recipe for a wonderful holiday season. Throw a big party and invite all the fools you know over for a big feast. Just watch your loved ones unclench and actually have a good time as the Lord of Misrule RULES! You can wander around your neighborhood chugging mulled wine and singing to the trees. When your neighbors complain, tell them it’s an ancient custom. Sheesh.

Then you hope Crazy Uncle Fred gets the bean from the ancient fruitcake and before you know it everyone is playing twister and having an excellent time of drunken debauchery. Well maybe skip the debauchery and go straight for drunkenness, since it is a family party.  Unless it’s the office holiday party, then you can go for actual debauchery. Since what happens at the office party definitely STAYS at the office party. (Not!)

So I wish you all a Merry, Unruly, Happy, Crazy and Warm Holiday, no matter which ones you celebrate.

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