What is Twelfth Night?
In the 18th Century, the coming of December meant short days and long winter nights. Colonist to America brought traditions that had been long cherished as a means of bringing light and gaiety to an otherwise drab time of the year. The six weeks from early December (Advent) to the sixth of January (Feast of Epiphany) included Christmas, New Year’s Day and Twelfth Night. Thus, an entire social season arose during what we call the “holidays.” It was a festive time featuring balls, musicals, plenty of good food and drink. Some Americans, for religious and economic reasons, did not single out Christmas Day. They regarded New Year’s Day as the principal occasion for gathering together or calling on friends and relatives to wish them well. Seasonal decorating was much simpler in the 18th century than is our present custom. The use of Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, brightly colored ribbons, and poinsettias was not widely observed until the mid-nineteenth century. Many families would have brightened the holidays and, indeed, the whole winter, with dried plant material and fresh greens, and might even force spring bulbs in special glass jars known as bulb vases . Both holly and mistletoe appear in paintings of 18th century English holiday scenes. Entertaining, enjoying elegantly presented meals and refreshments, and the extravagant use of extra candles to light the merriment into the dark winter evenings would have been familiar pleasures. A variety of candles would have been found in the house during the holidays; the family would have enjoyed sweet smelling beeswax candles, and on special occasions expensive bayberry candles, while the servants lit their work and living spaces with cheaper candles made of tallow (rendered animal fat). As with many of today’s holiday celebrations, food was the focal point of many gatherings. Lavish meals of many courses highlighted holidays spent with friends or family. Special holiday dishes or treats would be served depending on the host’s social status, religion, ethnic background and inclination. John Potts’ own ledger shows the purchase in mid-December of chocolate and citrus fruits for beverages. Wine, punch, and other spirited drinks removed winter’s chill and contributed to the merriment of the season . Tea, coffee and hot chocolate were also favored by all social classes who could afford these particular items. Members of the upper class were expected to entertain their holiday guests in a style befitting their social status and position in the community. Holiday visits of the 1760s were probably very similar to many of today’s large family gatherings. The house, crowded with guests, meant added responsibility as well as pleasures.
Sunday: December 15th from 2pm to 8pm.
Pottsgrove Maonr, 100 W King St, Pottstown, PA 19464