January 5th marks the ending of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas or the Christmas season - it is time to take down the festive decorations.
They come! they come! each blue-eyed sport,
The Twelfth-night king and all his court
In the early 1800s and on into the Victorian era the custom was to make or buy a special Twelfth Night cake which would also be accompanied by Twelfth Night characters. These Characters were small humorous illustrations with a few lines of pleasing verse beneath printed on cards or on a sheet ready to be cut out. They were sold in small packets to, amongst others, pastrycooks and led the way to a custom which annually grew to an extensive trade.
According to Hone (see opposite) Twelfth-night characters sold by the pastrycooks, are either commonplace or gross—when genteel they are inane; when humorous, they are vulgar.
The Characters were used in the drawing of King and Queen and cutting of the Twelfth cake.
- Illustrations by Richard Doyle
- Twelfth Night Characters - The King and Queen.
- Two from a series of 15 published in the
- Illustrated London News 1, January 1848
- Hand coloured at a later date
Who shall for the present delight here,In order to understand how the Characters were used here is a quote from Hones Every-Day Book 1826:-
First, buy your cake. Then, before your visitors arrive, buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse beneath. Next look at your invitation list, and count the number of ladies you expect; and afterwards the number of gentlemen. Then, take as many female characters as you have invited ladies; fold them up, exactly of the same size, and number each on the back; taking care to make the King No. 1, and the Queen No. 2. Then prepare and number the gentlemens characters.
Be a king by the lot ?
Cause tea and coffee to be handed to your visitors as they drop in. When all are assembled and tea over, put as many ladies characters in a reticule as there are ladies present; next put the gentlemens characters in a hat. Then call on a gentleman to carry the reticule to the ladies as they sit, from which each lady is to draw one ticket, and to preserve it unopened. Select a lady to bear the hat to the gentlemen for the same purpose. There will be one ticket left in the reticule, and another in the hat, which the lady and gentleman who carried each is to interchange, as having fallen to each.
Merriment without discretion Next, arrange your visitors according to their numbers; the King No. 1, the Queen No. 2, and so on.
The king is then to recite the verse on his ticket; then the queen the verse on hers; and so the characters are to proceed in numerical order. This done, let the cake and refreshments go round, and hey! for merriment!. According to Twelfth-Day law, each person is to support their character until midnight.