With the holidays upon us and the observance of annual traditions in high gear it seems fitting to look back at one of Cranbrook’s most storied and festive occasions. Starting in 1950, every year at the beginning of December preparations would begin for the annual Twelfth Night Gala at Cranbrook House. Held on January 6th, the event was originally conceived as a small costume party in the 1920s by Cranbrook Founders’ son, Henry Scripps Booth. It eventually became an official Cranbrook gathering, with Henry at the helm.
The aim of Twelfth Night, as Henry stated, was “to recognize the contribution each employee and board member makes to Cranbrook by bringing them all together as participants in an enjoyable, annual, and ‘classless’ social event.” It was, in essence, a staff holiday party, but its magnificence was a far cry from the typical.
Not sure exactly what Twelfth Night signifies? Perhaps you know the classic carol Twelve Days of Christmas: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ….” A medieval English observance, Twelfth Night, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, denotes “the twelfth and last day of Christmas festivities”—twelve days after Christmas, or January 6th. The Shakespeare play of the same name is thought to have been created as entertainment for a Twelfth Night celebration.
Inspired by his English heritage and impressed with a performance of the play at the Detroit Opera House when he was twelve years old, Henry Booth created a sixty-year tradition for Cranbrook staff, faculty, and supporters that revived the holiday’s twin themes of celebratory food and pageantry.
In Cranbrook Archives, the Twelfth Night Records meticulously document the planning and execution of the gala as it took place at Cranbrook House, through programs, scripts, invitations, guest lists, receipts, budgets, meeting minutes, photographs and more. These items bring the party alive–and what a party it was!
Choosing the decade of the 1960s to epitomize the revelry of the long-standing event, I give you the opening lines from the 1960 program, spoken by Cranbrook School Headmaster Harry Hoey:
We’ve all found a welcome in this mellow house
Including, we trust, some young shivering mouse
The wassail is heady
The fellowship’s steady
The mummers are ready
So gay may this gala be in Cranbrook House
On with the tom foolery!