Discarded Christmas + fire + socializing = historically fun time in Eagle | VailDaily.com

Discarded Christmas + fire + socializing = historically fun time in Eagle

Firefighters throw old Christmas trees onto the fire at the annual 12th Night bonfire in Eagle. Hundreds of trees are lit up at the town park in a tradition dating back to the 1950s.
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If you go...

What: 12th Night Bonfire.

When: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Eagle Town Park

Details: Please remove all ornaments and tinsel from trees to add to the bonfire pile and please bring them to town park before 6 p.m. Jan. 6. A crew from the Greater Eagle Fire Department will burn the discarded Christmas tree pile as attendees enjoy hot chocolate and socializing.

Eagle neighbors will gather to mark the official conclusion of the Christmas season Sunday by the 12th Night bonfire.

While they warm themselves at the discarded Christmas tree fire, sip hot chocolate (provided by the Eagle Lions Club) and maybe even take a turn on the community ice rink, today’s residents are participating in a celebration that’s been part of the downvalley holidays for more than six decades.

Sunday marks the 12th day of Christmas, as heralded by popular carol and Shakespearian comedy. But back on Jan. 8, 1953, the Eagle Valley Enterprise reported: “The ancient custom of burning the Yule trees on the 12th night following Christmas was observed in Eagle Tuesday night when around 100 adults and children gathered at the skating pond in southwest town to witness the burning of a huge pile of Christmas trees and enjoy skating on the town’s pond.”

Not much has changed, except that the bonfire location is no longer in southwest Eagle — not because it has moved but because the town has grown up around it. Eagle Town Park is now in the middle of the community, not on the southern or western edge.

Dr. L.W. Simmons was credited with coming up with the 12th Night plan. No doubt the doctor would be tickled that his modest suggestion has weathered six decades.

“Simmons stated that he hoped the custom would be carried on next year and that plans would be made far enough in advance that more persons could participate,” noted the Enterprise back in 1953.

Through the years, Eagle Lions Club members have been in charge of supplying hot chocolate for the bonfire and the Greater Eagle Fire Department has been called in to do the actual tree burning. Many locals recall how the late Don Price would organize skating contests during 12th Night and award quarters to the winners.

Historic roots

While Eagle has made the holiday its own, 12th Night has a broader history. The holiday is also known as Epiphany — the religious observance that celebrates the arrival of the three wise men to worship the baby Jesus. The trio visited Jesus not at the manger, as popular tradition says, but a few days later.

Although Epiphany has solemn roots, through the ages 12th Night developed some jovial activities. King Alfred, a ninth-century English monarch, was a true believer of the holiday season. He decreed the Christmas season would include Dec. 25 and the 12 days following it, thus beginning the 12 days of Christmas.

In Elizabethan England, 12th Night was similar to April Fools’ Day. Children played tricks on passers-by and bakeries sold special 12th Night’s cakes decorated with stars, castles, kings, dragons, palaces and churches. People would drink cider and call out “wes hal,” meaning good health. This toast evolved in to the word “wassail.”

William Shakespeare wrote a comedy —“12th Night” — about the holiday, reflecting its joyous mood. Legend says the play was first performed on Jan. 6, 1601, at Whitehall Palace when Queen Elizabeth entertained a distinguished Italian guest, the Duke of Bracciano.

Syrian legend says wild animals stay in dens and caves on Epiphany Eve and at midnight trees kneel in adoration of Jesus. This legend also says wishes are fulfilled on 12th Night.

Latin cultures regard Epiphany as both a solemn religious festival and the beginning of the pre-Lent season. Mexico’s greatest pilgrimage is the Epiphany march to the shrine of the miraculous Lord of Chalma in the valley of southwest of Mexico City.

While 12th Night revelry has declined in popularity, the holiday is still celebrated in parts of England. The trip of the magi is re-enacted each year at the Chapel Royal at St. James Palaces in London. The traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are ceremonially presented at the church alter.

In the present Christian tradition, Epiphany has a threefold meaning. It celebrates the appearance of the wise men, Jesus’ baptism and his first miracle of the changing water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. The three events reportedly occurred on the same date in different years.