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History Buffs Relive Medieval Era with Twelfth Night Celebration

By Heather Cherone | January 13, 2013 11:10am

PORTAGE PARK — Someone stepping through the doors of St. John’s Lutheran Church Saturday could be forgiven for wondering if they had somehow time-traveled to Europe in the 15th century.

Lords and ladies, dressed in their finest garb, milled about, greeting one another with bows and curtseys.

Around the edge of the church’s gym, festooned with banners signifying different families and groups, artists and craftsmen displayed their wares, vying for a laurel – the mark of the best.

In the corner, a woodworker chiseled tiny flourishes on to his latest work as a man dressed in a tunic and tights whittled a long piece of wood into an arrow.

Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism came from across the Midwest to gather in Portage Park Saturday to celebrate Twelfth Night, which marked the end of Christmas celebrations in medieval England, as well as the Epiphany, a Christian tradition marking the Magi visiting an infant Jesus Christ.

“It’s not that we want to escape the modern world,” said Debbie Seaton, who has been a member since 1984. “We like having antibiotics and proper refrigeration for our food. But it was a kinder, gentler period where people got to know each other a little bit better.”

In the society, Seaton is known as Mistress Maggie Cnoc Cait. All members adopt a persona based on a historical period and place of interest to them.

For David Nolan, of Glenview, his involvement in the society “and this whole nerdy thing,” as he called it, flourished in college where he studied history.

“Actually doing it is more fun than reading about it,” Nolan said.

For others, stepping into the medieval world is a chance to leave the world of machines and smartphones and focus on crafting and creating things with their hands.

“The cool part is making something that has a purpose,” said Jeanie Davan, of Madison, Wisc., as she wove wool on an Inkle loom.

Tom Scrip, who goes by the name Aethelwulf and has been a member for more than 20 years, attends weekly meetings of an archery club for a simple reason.

“It is mostly the people,” Scrip said. “And the beer.”

About 100 people belong to the society in and around Chicago, known as the Barony of Ayreton, said Chicago club president P.J. Reaney, also known as Her Honorable Ladyship Phebe Bondaechi.

The society follows the laws and structures of feudal society, and is active in 42 countries and boasts hundreds of members.

While some celebrations feature sword fighting, jousts and other feats of strengths, Twelfth Night showcased the era’s arts and sciences and gave members a chance to catch up after the holidays.

“It is about reaffirming friendships and having a good time,” Reaney said.

Merchants offered fabric, jewelry and glassware for sale – most handmade using techniques from the medieval ages. Classes offered instruction on a wide range of skills, including weaving, knitting, breadmaking, scroll painting and German martial arts.

“Most of us love history and research,” Seaton said. “And working with our hands. Machines do so much today. It is just not as personal.”