The holiday season isn’t over until Eagle sets it on fire
Traditional downvalley 12th Night Christmas tree bonfire is planned Monday at Eagle Town Park
EAGLE — In Eagle and Gypsum, the holiday season isn’t over until residents send it up in flames.
That will happen on Monday.
Monday’s 12th night Christmas tree bonfire at Eagle Town Park will be lit at 6 p.m. It’s a downvalley tradition that dates back to the 1950s. It’s a simple small-town affair that finds neighbors warming themselves by the fire and sipping hot beverages. Kids and adults strap on skates and step out on the town park rink for a nighttime spin.
Monday marks the 12th day of Christmas, as heralded by the popular carol. Back in its Jan. 8, 1953 edition, 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
Dr. L.W. Simmons was credited with coming up with the 12th Night plan.
“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.
12th Night in history
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. According to the telling, the trio didn’t arrive at the manger scene — despite what nativity scenes the world over depict — until 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 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 into 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, according to the Bible, occurred on the same date in different years.