Two black iron wyverns stand guard outside the front door of the Castle whilst, when you step inside, two large terracotta ones turn round to look at you as you pass by into the Saloon. They are a heraldic symbol of Wessex and Wales, and 1,000 years ago flags with such golden dragons encouraged the Saxons into battle against the Vikings and are, of course, above all, associated with King Alfred the Great (of Wessex).
Inside the Saloon you now see again the portrait of the 3rd Earl, as the beautiful Christmas tree has just gone before Twelfth Night, January 6th, otherwise folklore says you risk bad luck. Epiphany marks the end of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” which were decreed by law by King Alfred the Great to be a holiday, “Holy days” and were to be taken by all by everyone from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night.
In past times, the eve of Twelfth Night was one of celebration and as large a party as Christmas Day itself. In the West, it may be celebrated as the day the three Kings or Magi arrived with their gifts for baby Jesus. But the eastern churches celebrate it more for Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. The drinks served on this occasion were often hot and spicy recalling the spices brought by the Magi, with heavily fruited Twelfth night cakes and epiphany tarts with the pastry laid out in the shape of the star of Bethlehem.
Epiphany remains a national holiday in many parts of Europe though sadly not in England.
Sally and her team of elves are not on holiday. From the gardeners to the banqueting team, those in the office and the gift shop all kindly return to help to dismantle the garlands and trees. The different coloured baubles are sorted, packed away in old newspaper, labelled and stored again in Sally’s Sheds, all of which she has carefully organised and labelled to make it easier for next year.
Despite its disappearance from the modern calendar, in this country at least, Twelfth Night is still part of our memory because of the William Shakespeare play of the same name. First performed on the eve of Epiphany in 1601, this comedy relies on confusion and mistaken identity taking the theme from these 12 days in which servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women and so forth, casting the normal order into confusion. Utterly embedded in the language and touchstones of his time, Shakespeare’s lines highlight the underlying themes of Twelfth Night “I say there is no darkness but ignorance” (The Fool).
Just as Epiphany welcomes the dawn and the light so, in the same way, the final scenes of the play allow the world to return to order, although the sense that “Nothing that is so, is so.” stays with audience.
January 6th is still celebrated in many countries as Dreikönigstag in Germany, Dia dos Reis or “Día de Reyes” in South America, Theophany in Greece and there are other traditional customs around the world. Perhaps it was a cheering moment in the darker days of winter, when we were closed off from the seasons and nature but as 2020 begins a moment of Epiphany might remain helpful for all us – the dawning of light, a revelation and a reminder of our heritage.
Happy New Year 2020! I love all of your posts but this one spoke to me. I worked for years in New Orleans as a stockbroker & the above holidays & traditions are celebrated in this city of so many nationalities. I never knew the connections in England & I am happy to now know. With my DNA I have discovered I am 90% English! I have traveled to England many times & my daughter studied there but I now know why it has always held such a fascination for all things English. I have traveled all over the globe but I always keep coming back to my roots. Thank you.
I loved this so much! Thank you Lady Carnarvon for the interesting history of Epiphany. I had no idea the different origins around the world and January 6th will now mean so much more! Cheers to a Wonderful 2020!
I enjoy the photos and details. It is so fascinating. The photos of the archive room was interesting too. I wish there would be more exploration with photos of other rooms unseen. A treat!
Thank you that is very interesting to read …
Thank you, Lady Carnarvon
Epiphany has always been a ritual for me. I’m sure it comes from my early Catholic upbringing but now only a part of my tradition to wait until January 6 to put away my beautiful Nativity scene, Jesus must be remembered and celebrated.
There is no one to explain the tradition to or to help put everything away, but I know the real reason for Christmas and show HIM the respect HE deserves in this small ritual I have kept to honor HIM.
Thank you for keeping your own ritual and explaining the rest of Twelfth Night, I hope to remember it this next Christmas and maybe there will be a new/old Shakespeare gift to myself as well!
Love how you care for your amazing home and your history lessons are always so interesting! Thank you.
Happy 12th Night!
I so look forward to receiving your writings. They are obviously drawn from a deep love of the estate and community of Highclere which is under your families care.
It is a lesson every time in history, perseverance and hope.
A reminder of the traditions that embody the legacy of a family and have stood the test of time. Along with new ones that are being inspired and implemented.
I look forward to someday visiting your beautiful home and feeling the presence of peace, love and expectation that is conveyed in what you share. Thank you.
You are too kind, thank you. You must come and visit.
May you have a Wonderful 2020. Love to read all your posts and picture the areas you refer to. Never can get enough of your descriptions of the castle and grounds. I have just finished reading your book on Lady Katherine and truly loved it from cover to cover. So many facts on Britain and the war —-so much to still be learned. Thank you for giving me such pleasure and many more facts about that time.
Thank you – I am delighted you enjoyed it.
Thank you kindly Lady Carnarvon for this most interesting article on the Epiphany. Wishing for you and your family a wonderful New Year !
We celebrated Theophany at my little Byzantine church yesterday, Divine Liturgy in the morning, Vespers late afternoon, followed by a pot luck, then Compline. Because our patron is St John the Baptist, it’s a particularly important feast day for us.
Sorry I am use to my girl friend Katherine, but of course I mean Catherine!
As Spanish I do celebrate the three wise men day with presents for the whole family but specially for children. My city, Cartagena is an important military base in the southeast of Spain and we also celebrate the military Easter which is a sort of festivity installed by the king Carlos III in 1782, a solemn and important military act with which the military year begins, a balance is made of the previous year and the lines of action are marked to develop in which it begins.
At home we also celebrate the Epiphany by writing in the door with chalk 20(the two first number of the year)+C+M+B (Christus Mansionem Benedicat (God bless this home) or Caspar, Melchior et Baltassar) +20 (the last two numbers of the year. Some friends write a star after the first 20 meaning the Bethlehem star and the three crosses meaning the Holy Trinity. Sorry for my English I hope you can understand me properly…
Thanks because I’m learning so so much about history and traditions and I wish you all a great Epiphany Day!! Love!
Your English is perfect – and that is so very interesting. It is wonderful to hear about all the different tradition we still hold dear around the world.
Once again you have told a story of how early English royalty influenced religion and literature. As I finished reading, I couldn’t help but think about the phrase, “What an Epiphany!” often said when something new and unique is appreciated.
Thank you again for a very interesting story.
Happy New Year Lady Carnarvon to all of your family!
While watching season 3 of the Crown we were delighted with the episode regarding your father in law
When he becomes the Queen’s racing manager back in the 60’s! Such a poignant story…
Coincidentally in reading a travel guide re tracing Jane Austin’s steps the author describes “Highclere Park” as Jane Austen was a guest at a nearby estate and walked the grounds around “Lord Carnarvon’s”
beautiful landscape… even mentioning that the house was not the castle we see today since Jane Austen was there prior to Highclere being renovated with its current facade that we all know and love so well!
Happy New Year Highclere!
That’s right. When Jane Austen visited Highclere it was at that time Highclere House a typical Palladian, Georgian gentleman’s residence.
I grew up in Tarpon Springs, Florida where there is a large Greek population. Epiphany is still celebrated there with closed schools. Young boys dive for the cross in the hopes of a year of good luck. Thank you for such a lovely explanation. I am also thrilled to learn about the iron dragons I saw on the door step when I visited.
How interesting – thank you
Happy New Year
And to you
We always take our decorations down on Twelfth Night (or thereabouts) as well! My parents were Irish and so we always celebrated the 12 days of Christmas. Also, Jan 6 is my dear departed mother’s birthday so our celebration always continued through her day. I always lament how, here in the US, so many people gauge their “christmas” by the retail calendar – putting up the tree and decorations at Thanksgiving and taking them down on St. Stephen’s day (when Christmas is actually just beginning!)
Best wishes for a happy and properous New Year – we are so looking forward to visiting Highclere in 2020!
Thank you – we look forward to welcoming you to Highclere.
Dear Lady Carnarvon
Thank you for the information about epiphany and the holidays. The holidays have been enjoyable allowing more time to read your blog. Thank you for providing such interesting, relevant information and beautiful photographs.
Kindest regards and best wishes for the year ahead.
Thank you for sharing the history and traditions on celebrating Epiphany. I hope to visit Highclere Castle this summer.
Please do come and visit – the gardens are at their best in the summer.
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
I thoroughly enjoyed your message today, and while the world should return to normal, I just do not quite have the energy yet to return my world to normal. I have been ill for two weeks, so my tree and decorations are still up for another week! I enjoyed the pictures of Highclere during the holidays, and I especially appreciated the sentiment of welcoming the light during the darkness of winter! At the beginning of the new year and the new decade, I wish you good fortune and great joy!
I think you are entitled to a rest given that you have been unwell. Also in certain countries they don’t take their decorations down until Candlemas which is 2nd February.
Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas. Hopefully, this year will be remembered as one of perfect vision and clarity. (20/20) In the midst of political games and turmoil, hatred, and feelings that there will be no end to evil and senseless loss of life, we must embrace kindness, respect, empathy and learn to love one another. These aspirations are the cornerstone of successful civilizations. These beautiful Christmas traditions are becoming even more cherished as time trundles forward. Once again, your message brightened my morning, reminding us of the beauty that still exists in our world.
Thank you – I hope we all can share your vision of 2020.
I too celebrate Epiphany. I so enjoyed your article and the comments left here by others, especially traditions from other countries.
And the icing on the cake yesterday……the BBC2 programme featuring Mary Berry’s visit to your home. Having been lucky enough to visit Highclere in November, it all seemed very familiar and ‘meeting’ more members of the team – like the gamekeepers – was fascinating. You are the gift that keeps on giving! Happy New Year and I hope we will be back before the end of 2020.
Thank you. It was an absolute pleasure having Mary Berry here – she is remarkable woman.
I absolutely enjoy your writing. You have a beautiful way of capturing the beauty and history of so many things. Thank you.
Wonderful tales of Twelfth Night, thank you for this blog. Yes, it is a holiday today in Greece, as the Theophania is celebrated in every seaside town and villages, in the big ports and on the islands, by the lakes and rivers. The priest throws the holy cross in the water to bless it for the new year, and the young men dive in (often in the ice cold sea like today) and the first one to get the cross is especially blessed. This happens in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and this year the Prime Minister of Greece was there to celebrate with the Greek Americans. Tomorrow is also a Feast Day for St. John the Baptist, and then we will settle into the winter quiet grey days.
That sounds better in the warm waters of Florida than the cold waters around Britain! Happy New Year.
Thank you Lady Carnarvan,
This was a delight to read and very interesting too.
Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany!
All the best!
Thank you for the wonderful essay today. The responses were wonderful as our group shared their experiences and customs. What a joy to learn these practices; it expands my horizons. We’re now in the process of seasonal transformation as days grow longer.
It is my hope and desire that all who participate with responses will continue to share their loving energy through this blog.
Happy New Year to all; may 2020 be the year we all enjoy and visit Highclere!
Thank you so much
Feliz día de Epifanía y Feliz Año Nuevo! qué hermoso relato…muchas gracias!
Dear Lady Carnarvon, It is always a pleasure to read your vivid descriptions on Highclere’s seasons and festivities ,all deliciously connected to History and Literature!In our torrid Brazil,people generally put everything related to Christmas on this day…I did not know that there is a superstition on bad luck if Christmas things remain on display after this…Anyway,since you gave us more time(until February,according to another tradition)I am relieved,because it is a pleasure to watch the Christmas train running cheerfully on the village set on my living room table,during the holidays…Children of all ages love it and everybody says that it would be wonderful to have Xmas in a city covered with snow…As I have told you last year,people always want to be in cold areas when it is too hot where they are and vice versa.Thanks for your descriptions and for all you have made for the beautiful Highclere,so dear to many persons and families around the world.Happy and blessed New Year!
Happy New Year!!!
Sorry,there was a word lapse in my text…people put all things related to Xmas away,on this day.
Happy New Year from Englewood, Florida!
I live 2-3 hours south of Tarpon Springs, Florida. My husbands’ ancestors owned a property there many years ago called The Upham House. I don’t believe it is still in existence, which is sad. Neither of us knew about the large Greek influence in Tarpon Springs! Even though I went through three years of Catechism in the Lutheran Church, I have never heard of the sunken cross for Epiphany ( the name of one of the Churches I attended was named Epiphany Lutheran Church!). How very interesting. The information you shared as well as that of my fellow blog readers has shed light on the history that affected his family. Thank you all.
Happy Epiphany and a Blessed New Year,
Thank you for sharing all the wonderful history.
Learning so much about your beautiful castle and
the people that are the caretakers.
You have a beautiful way of describing all you know and see when writing.!
Happy Epiphany !
From Tucson, Az,
cI LOVE your blog! I always enjoy the much appreciated history lessons. Speaking of our forefathers, a genealogy email enlightened me to my 4th Great Grandfathers living in the town, or perhaps village is the better word, Wanborough, near Swindon. Thanks to your blog I also know how they may have celebrated their customs and traditions. Is it too far fetched to wonder if one of their large family may have been employed at Highclere prior to 1779?
Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year!
Shelley in Virginia
I love all your posts, but this one is my favorite. Thank you for sharing your home and heart with us.
Happy New Year. I had to share with you that my husband surprised me for Christmas with a copy of Christmas at Highclere. It is fabulous and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Thank you for sharing your life with us.
Battersea, Ontario, Canada
Thank you !
Wow! Just loved this post Lady Carnarvon. Very informative. Thank you so much. Happy Epiphany!!
Happy and a Healthy New Year! Thank you so much taking time to write and share wonderful historical facts from Highclere and, indeed, all of England. I always find your blogs fascinating and informative and look forward to your next.
My husband and I were just lamenting the demise of family and traditions in the younger generation here in the USA. I’m sure there are some families that must have managed to keep them alive but once the older generations die off I fear so many more will be lost. I guess the timing of your blog on The Epiphany and the historical data you provided was just what I needed. Thank you again for all you give us.
Bev and Dan from Virginia
It is still good to talk and share traditions – you never know what sticks!
Thank you for your interesting post. I always enjoy them and learn so much.
Hau’oli makahiki hou! Happy new year, from the Big Island of Hawaii.
Thank you for the information, now I should get busy and get the tree down. I would love to spend the day in your library reading everything I could, how fortunate to be able to access such priceless history. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Happy Epiphany!
Thank you – it was just lovely looking at and holding the edition of Shakespeare!
Dear Lady Carnarvon, Your “Epiphany” blog was lovely. We appreciated so much learning about some of the history with which we were unfamiliar – particularly as it relates to your part of England and with Highclere.
Later this year, my husband and I will have the great pleasure of visiting Highclere Castle on two occasions. First, on 5 May for the “Castle Tour, Exhibition, Gardens and Afternoon Tea,” and then again on 13 May for the “Living in a Castle” tour. Actually, we have arranged a trip to the U.K. and France around these dates. And we have not giving up trying to organize participating in other events at Highclere if we can identify them and work it out the details (not to be presumptuous, but suggestions appreciated, of course).
I have had the occasion, during my research and planning phases to communicate with some of your staff via email. They have been extraordinarily friendly and helpful in responding to a number of my questions (Julia, especially).
We are so looking forward!
Marilyn and Gary Hay
Thank you so much!
Happy New Year!
So sorry for the loss of your mother in law.
I am wondering what is the difference in your books between the UK and the US edition?
Wishing you all the Best
In the cook books (At Home and Christmas) just the fact you measure ingredients in cups
…….the dawning of light, a revelation and a reminder of our heritage. I just love this. Thank you.
Thank you for this beautiful history and now I’m going to have to find a movie by Shakespeare called the 12th Night.
Or see it if it is ever on in a theatre. The language is beautiful
Thank you Lady Carnarvon for the traditions you share. I am a Lutheran woman, but I am very blessed to be able to read your blog where you have an elegant way of introducing, explaining history where it resonates within the heart and the mind. I feel very fortunate to be able to receive this knowledge from your blog. Thank you again.
Happy New Year Lady Carnarnov! May your family be blessed with joy and health. Thank you for your delightful posts. Sincerely, Karen from NJ
Beautiful Thank you and Happy New Year . Here in New Orleans we begin the Mardi Gras season with king cake and of course the twelfth night parades We chalk our homes above doorways 20+c+m+b+20 in blessing.The tree is dismantled after today . I enjoy and look forward to your blog .
Thank you. Blessings are always good!
Lady Carnarvon ,
Thank you for reminding us of this beautiful tradition. As a child, we always waited for Los Reyes Magos day on the 6th. We got lots of toys, if we were good. Obviously, in the US. Is not the belief. But; here in Florida, I still cherish and keep it in my heart.
So enjoy your blog posts and information you share. Growing up, our mom would take the tree down on the 6th or 12th night. Happy New Year to You!
Thank you so much for your historical references.
I am sure they have open the eyes of many people.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Epiphany means so much to me. I was finally baptized on January 7th, 2007 at our Episcopal Church in our town. This was an Epiphany Sunday. It was because of my own epiphany that the baptism took place. At my age this was quite a milestone. I will be 70 this year.
Thank you for the fine article. Excellent as always.
Thank you so much & Happy New Year to you & your family!
This was fascinating to read. I love the photos you provide as well to help tell your story.
The sky behind the castle in the first photo makes for a stunning photo!
Thank you for this fascinating and heart-felt essay on Epiphany. I not only learned some new facts, but I enjoyed the adept way you told your story. Your writing always draws me back to Highclere and the summer of 2017 when my mother and I visited for your Special Tour. It is one of the highlights of our lives. May 2020 be blessed for you, your family and your staff.
And Happy New year to you!
Thank you so very much for the wonderful post regarding the art, history, and traditions! We put away our decorations and take the tree out for Epiphany. However, I look forward to putting up my Mardi Grad wreath and ordering a King Cake, as we celebrate the next season before Lent. The bright colors and a doll collection being cheer to winter, after the Christmas Season. Best wishes for a Happy New Year!
Thank you so much!
I see a need for us to resurrect this forgotten Celebration, either that or move to a country where it continues this day.
Best Wishes for a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year in 2020
I too really enjoyed the programme with yourself and Mary Berry. You had a good chemistry together maybe the powers that be should commission a series!
All the best for whatever Highclere brings in 2020!!
I was lucky, an amazing lady
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
You never cease to amaze me. This was a wonderful piece to read and just so interesting! You are better reading than any encyclopedia!
I am still anxiously waiting for my book Highclere at Christmas which has been on backorder thru PBS since I ordered it on December 5th! I called PBS today and they could not tell me what the status of my order was. Very annoying! I hope it has not gone out of print! Maybe I will get it in time for Valentines Day.
Anyway, thank you for the delightful story in this week’s post.
Delray Beach, Florida
How very annoying – my husband spoke to the publishers to ensure there were books and anyone was not waiting! I can mention this to him – so sorry
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I’m so very delighted to have found your blog and look forward to your future postings. I also love that you give us a glimpse into your lives as caretakers of Highclere. God bless you and your family in the coming year.
You are so kind! I feel lucky that people read the blogs ..