Nowadays there is little to be said for Twelfth Night other than that you should take down your Christmas decorations. But if you live in Spain, 5th January is Three Kings – an excuse for much celebration, and men on horse-back handing out sweets and other treats.
In Britain in bygone days Twelfth Night was celebrated with parties – much more so than New Year’s Eve. It was an occasion for much merriment, wassailing, and consumption of cider – and a special cake. The cake would be a rich fruit cake, often made with exotic spices and maybe soaked in rum or brandy and flamed before being served. Nowadays it has been taken over by the Christmas pudding served on Christmas Day – which is a bit of a shame because let’s face it, by then you have already eaten more than enough….
Checking through the dairies of ancestor Richard Hall I cannot see any particular celebration for 5th January – 1st January always started with a comment along the lines of “Praise be to the Lord that I have been spared to see another year” and then was followed by a reference to the fact that he was suffering from indigestion and was confined to bed! By the fifth January Richard Hall was usually back to taking tea with neighbours, but nothing in any way celebratory. But then, my ancestor always was a miserable old blighter….
By the time we got to Richard’s great great grand daughter (in other words, my gran) I remember it was a tradition in the family sixty years ago that we would play parlour games – and none were more typical than The Old Family Coach. I imagine that it was Victorian rather than Georgian in its origin, and I have come across a printed account of the “rules” of the game dating from the 1870s.
I suspect that each family had its own version. My grandmother said that the game very popular when she was a youngster in the latter years of the 19th Century. Each person was allocated a word associated with a trip to the seaside by coach – someone would be ‘the wheels’ another ‘the horses’ another the ‘whip’ ‘the dog’ and so on. A story was then read out by the narrator, along the lines of “The coach set off, the wheels spun round, the horses galloped, the dog barked and the driver spared the whip” and as each word was mentioned that particular person had to get up and turn a circle clockwise. If I remember right the trip to the seaside involved a wheel coming off the ‘old family coach’, so it had to be repaired before the assembled company could complete the journey.
Whenever the words ‘The Old Family Coach’ were mentioned the entire assembled company had to stand up and revolve anti-clockwise. Of course no-one could remember who they were supposed to be, or which way they should be turning, and great fun was had by all….when I tried to reprise this game with my own family they refused to have anything to do with it. I suspect if it had involved karaoke, or money, it might have been better received! As it is, I cannot see the tradition ever being revived, which is a shame. So, on this Twelfth Night, let me raise a toast to the Old Family Coach!