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01/06/2004 Archived Entry: "Twelfth Night"

January 6 is the Twelfth Day after Christmas, otherwise called the Epiphany when the infant Christ was revealed to the world by the visit of the Three Wise Kings. 'Epiphany' comes from the Greek meaning manifestation.
In some calculations, January 5 is Twelfth Night, when our glittering decorations are removed, the holly and the ivy are thrown onto the rubbish heap and Christmas is officially declared over for another twelve months.
In the past, Christmas decorations sometimes included a horseshoe as part of the general decorations, and then, when Christmas Day arrived, a nail was inserted in the shoe. As the twelve days of Christmas proceeded, a nail was added for every day until Twelfth Night, after which the horseshoe with its array of nails was removed and so another Christmas was concluded.
It would be interesting to learn how many Twelfth Night customs are still celebrated. In some areas, this was known as Old Christmas Day, and in others it was called Auld Yule, a time for bonfires and feasting.
Just before Christmas we had a new moon which reminded me of a custom practised well into this century; indeed, I can recall it being conducted for some years after the end of the second World War. I refer to the ancient practice of bowing to the new moon and turning over any silver coins in one's pocket.
This was considered a probable means of doubling one's money or at the least, substantially increasing one's wealth. It was long thought that the custom of bowing to the new moon would double the money in one's pocket provided any silver coins were turned over during the bowing operation. People would therefore make sure they completed both elements but one condition was that the new moon should not be viewed through glass.
To see it through a window or any other glass object was regarded as unfortunate, while the most effective way was to catch sight of the new moon over one's right shoulder whilst out of doors. This occasion was also thought ideal to begin any new enterprise or venture, and a further bonus was that any child born on the day of a new moon was likely to have a long, happy and prosperous life. It was not considered a good day to become ill, however, the belief being that the illness would persist for a long period with a lot of discomfort.
The new moon continues to produce a good deal of weather lore. One is that if the new moon is in the far north, we shall suffer cold weather for two weeks but if it is in the south, then milder weather can be expected. In some areas, a new moon in the south indicates dry weather which can survive for a long as a month.
The points of a new moon are said to tell us a lot. If the tips of the new crescent are pointing upwards, it is believed the following month will be dry but if they point downwards, then rain can be expected. In some areas, the direct opposite of these beliefs prevail - I think a lot of seamen believe the opposing view.
Some believe that if the points are upwards, the moon's image makes the shape of a bowl which holds water - hence the theory of dry weather. It is said that the Red Indian hunters believed that upward pointing horns of a new moon were there to hang their powder horn upon - and if this was possible, they stayed at home because the weather would be too dry to facilitate a successful hunting expedition. They preferred dampness during the hunt because this enabled tracking of animals to be done in silence and so they would venture out when the horns of the new moon were pointing downwards.
Another notion is that when the new moon lies on her back, strong winds can be expected and it can also be an indication of storms with heavy rain. There is an old verse which says:

When the new moon lies on her back
Mend your shoes and sort your thack.

Thack is an old word for thatch - the message is clear!

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