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Saturday, 6 January, 2001, 12:59 GMT
The forgotten Christmas
Christmas decorations
Twelfth Night: Time to take the decorations down
By the BBC's Francesca Kasteliz

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me - well not much actually because he probably totally forgot that 6 January is the twelfth day of Christmas.

The age old mix of Pagan and Christian rituals that mark the end of Yuletide festivities have been largely forgotten - all that remains in this modern day is the tradition of taking down the tinsel.

But hundreds of years ago - the celebration of Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, was a bigger deal than Christmas itself.

Andy Park, aka Mr Christmas
Andy Park makes sure it is Christmas every day
It seems that right back to Roman times there was always a feast of sorts to bring in the sunny days of new year and cast out the demons of winter.

In Britain many of these festivities centred on orchards - as revellers tried to wake the trees up to another year.

Drinking wassail - a strong ale - played a pretty large part, and in many West country villages 'wassailing' still exists.

In some parts of the country a 'King's Cake' was baked with a bean hidden inside - the lucky finder of that bean could 'rule' for a day.

Epiphany

Gradually - and probably out of convenience - these festivities became interlinked with a date that dominated the Christian calendar - Epiphany - the visit of the three wise men to Jesus. And so these two thoroughly different events have come to be marked on the same day.

Epiphany is still celebrated in many British churches although it's more of an event in Catholic dominated countries.

But why have so many of the pagantraditions disappeared?

Snow scene
Pagans would try to wake the trees for a new year
Many of the more bawdy goings-on were banned under Puritan influence in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. But it was the twentieth century that did most to obliterate twelfth night rituals with two world wars and a flu epidemic that wiped out festivities in small villages.

When normality returned - no-one could remember the old traditions.

One man who certainly won't be celebrating twelfth night this year - or any year - is one Andy Park, an electrical engineer from Melksham, Wiltshire.

He calls himself Mr Christmas - rather fitting for a man who lives and breathes Yuletide.

Royal invitation

Since 1994 he's been celebrating Christmas every day. And that includes dressing up in his special hat and industrial strength tinsel scarf, eating mince pies and Christmas pud, opening presents and even watching the Queen's Christmas message at 3 o'clock.

His house is crammed full of decorations - although the Christmas tree looks a little dusty after six years on the go.

Mr Park denies criticism that it is a little crazy: "They can think I am mad but I say what's wrong with celebrating a little Christmas cheer every day? Presents every day, goodwill every day. It's a wonderful day of the year."

He has become something of a celebrity - his latest ploy was to write to the Queen and offer his living room as a venue for next year's Queen's message.

Her Majesty politely declined the offer in a letter of reply but did thank him profusely for his kind invitation.

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