The 12th night tree burning ceremony
By Mike Boys, a lifelong Marshall County resident, former newspaper owner and former public officeholder presents his views, opinions and news appear Fridays on the Pilot News Opinion page. To contact Mr. Boys online, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was 51 years ago this week when the Plymouth Jaycees, of which I was a member, revived an old tradition of the celebration of a “12th Night” ceremony.
Man, I can’t believe it has been that long ago — 51 years – wow! Anyway, what I was sayin’ was — this mid-winter event dates back to ancient Rome. The 12th night evolved from the Roman Saturnalia festival marking the onset of the winter solstice — that point in December when the sun had reached its lowest, darkest and coldest time and the beginning of the rise toward the longer, warmer days that would lead to Spring.
Well, the “12th Night” ceremony is a religious event that has traditionally been observed on the eve of Epiphany or twelve days after Christmas. Back when it was called the Feast of the Epiphany, it marked the time when the wise men of the East saw the star announcing the birth of Jesus. Prior to the reform of the calendar Jan. 6 was observed as the anniversary of the birth of Christ — or Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek “Epi-Phaino” — meaning “to shine or bring light upon, to be manifest (in creation). In England they use the word “Yuletide” which means the twelve-day period between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6. It also announces the end of the Christmas season.
For nine years the Plymouth Jaycees collected hundreds of Christmas trees in the city and placed them in the softball diamond near Michigan Street. Then on the eve of Epiphany a religious ceremony was held. Taking part in the program was the Mayor, Jaycee President, Jaycee project chairman, a clergyman, and the Plymouth High School choir which provided several Christmas carols. Then a lighted torch touched off the huge pile of Christmas trees. Wow — what a fire!
One of the great things about this ceremony was that over 800 people attended to see “their Christmas trees” burn.
Sadly, though, on the night before the ceremony in 1969 vandals set fire to the Christmas trees. The Plymouth Fire Department was called and extinguished the flame. However there were very few trees left. So, as they say, “The show must go on” — so the Plymouth Jaycees held the ceremony and — burned what few trees were left. The Jaycees decided that they should not hold the ceremony any longer because of the danger of someone or something getting burned if vandals struck again. I hated to see this come to an end but, while it lasted, it was a wonderful, meaningful event.
Well, that’s it for now. . . .so until next time…..this is my view from the Pilot House.