Twelfth Night was Friday. The Twelve Days of Christmas are, actually, the days after the holiday, which was never clear to me as a child, although I was fascinated by the concept and the song. When I was eight, my mother constructed a little paper mache tree with twelve small presents for the days before, thinking that Advent and the Days was approximately the same thing. It was lovely, but backwards. The Twelve Days run about the same length as the pagan Yuletide and about as long as the sun takes to begin hanging around a little longer each day, and, in some Northern traditions, each have their own meaning.
We have a small series of rituals to close out the season of Yule and begin the New Year. First, I build a dinner fire and. Kayli the Sun Kitty is always happy to hear the crackle and slips peacefully into my chair when I leave to check our food. After dinner in front of the fire, we take down the cards hanging around the door. I trim off the fronts to use as tags for next year and Mark places each on the blaze. We think about each person for a moment as the card burns. Once the cards are gone, I clear the mantle of greenery and place it, branch by branch, on the flames. The rapid shoots of flame remind us to be careful with candles. The blaze is so hot that we move our chairs back several feet. Slowly, the signs of the season melt into ashes.
The next day, I clear out the ashes and throw them on a garden bed. I pack away all of the mantle figures; only two white candles in clear glass holders will sit there until Candlemas. The tree comes down and Mark hauls it to the brush pile for next year’s “Yule log.” The Christmas table runner is thrown into the wash and we spend a few weeks with the bare wood. I place a new beeswax candle that Margi gave me several months ago at the Pie Social on the table and light it before dinner preparations.
The house feels spare and clear when we are finished. Winter Break is over for everyone and the Long Winter has begun. We are ready.