We’ve twisted Christmas so many times, so many ways, it’s a wonder the holiday survives at all. Then again, Christmas is so enormous, so extreme, so insurmountable that it can overcome even a culture that starts putting out its decorations the day after Halloween. A culture that begins to play Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas, Baby” over the supermarket’s speakers immediately after Thanksgiving. A culture in which Costco sells 6-foot-tall $220 Santas for your lawn, complete with twinkling lights and an accompanying sleigh for another $220. Even in its most pretzel-warped forms, Christmas arrives in the bleak midwinter and promptly takes over the season.

Our trouble these days is that it’s taken over the wrong season. The yuletide is supposed to start with Christmas, not end with it. The 12 days of Christmas run from Dec. 25 through Jan. 5, with that last evening called Twelfth Night—the evening before Epiphany. It’s a time for skits, with a Lord of Misrule appointed to lead the festivities: an evening of “cakes and ale,” as Shakespeare has the drunken Sir Toby proclaim in his own “Twelfth Night” play.

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