A lost tradition of 'Burning of the Greens'
Have you taken down your Christmas tree yet? It’s still Christmas season, according to some traditions.
The traditional Christian calendar indicates that tonight marks “Twelfth Night” or the Eve of Epiphany, the end of the 12 days of Christmas.
Today is the 12th day, Jan. 5. Celebrating the end of Christmas on Twelfth Night has been a tradition observed in the United States, Great Britain and throughout Europe.
The custom of closing the Christmas season on January 5 (or 6) comes from the pagan custom of marking the Winter Solstice for a certain number of days.
The holiday of Twelfth Night has been abandoned and forgotten by a large part of the country.
According to The Walnut Valley Times newspapers, a few social clubs and churches in El Dorado observed a type of Twelfth Night event.
In Augusta, an annual Burning of the Greens took place near Bobbie Street and Harrington Street. The informal event was hosted by Arthur “A.V.” Small and his wife Jessie, residents of Augusta from 1918 until his death in 1973, and everyone in the neighborhood was was invited to burn their Christmas greenery in the bonfire and enjoy some hot cocoa.
A.V. became a machinist at Mobil Oil when he arrived in 1918 and also raised bees and sold honey in stores in Augusta and Wichita under the label of “A.V.S. Honey.” A.V. was elected president of Kansas Honey Producers in 1922.
A number of local boys worked for Small in his honey business.
Gary Agard of Augusta shared that the local honey was popular, “We supplied all the stores...I was about 9 or 10 and made 15 cents an hour. I remember getting a raise to 20 cents an hour. It was fun.”
For many years the Small’s Burning of the Greens parties were mentioned in the Augusta Daily Gazette, often reporting that 100 to 300 people attended. Some Augustans remember the post-Christmas event.
“I was just a kid and we lived on Bobbie Street - it wasn’t paved then. We all carried our Christmas trees to the fire. It was always fun for the whole neighborhood. We looked forward to it.”
Since the Middle Ages, the Twelfth Night has been observed with games, masquerades and other revelries. The Lord of Misrule along with his assistant, a Fool, was the mock official of the Twelfth Night celebrations. These often involved singing, dancing, pantomimes and feasting. In some areas of England, they also include bonfires, masques and a custom known as "wassailing" the fruit trees, which means carrying jugs of cider to the orchards and offering toasts to the apple trees to ensure a good yield.
The 18th-century importance of Twelfth Night -- rather than Christmas Day -- is nowhere better documented than in the papers of George Washington. He paid little attention to Christmas Day, usually attending a church service after which he would spend the day sorting through other year-end business matters of his plantation. Twelfth Night, however, was a different matter. Washington's records indicate that he and his wife Martha often entertained groups of relatives and friends throughout that day. Further illustrating how Twelfth Night holiday gatherings provided convenient opportunities for conducting other large family events, George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night in 1759 in Williamsburg.
In the United States, Twelfth Night pageants remain popular in some places, which include masked figures, costumed musicians and performing traditional English dances. In New Orleans, the Twelfth Night marks the beginning of the Carnival and ends on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.
Another popular Twelfth Night tradition was to have a bean and pea hidden inside a Twelfth-night cake; the "man who finds the bean in his slice of cake becomes King for the night while the lady who finds a pea in her slice of cake becomes Queen for the night.
For most, Twelfth Night meant taking down the Christmas wreaths and burning of the green in the traditional Twelfth Night bonfire. According to English folklore, it was believed that spirits lived in the holly and greenery used to decorate for Christmas. The festive season provided shelter for the spirits, but they needed to be released when the season was over. If the custom wasn't followed, it was believed to cause agricultural problems in the spring.
It’s been said that you should take your Christmas decorations down by Twelfth Night and that if you don't, you have to leave them up all year. However, medieval tradition is on your side and you can keep them up until Candlemas Eve, Feb. 1, which is also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin.
But that’s a different story