Epiphany Around the World
For Christians around the world, the official end to the Christmas holiday occurs on January 6.
Known as Epiphany, or the 12th Day of Christmas, it commemorates how a star led the Magi, or the three kings or wise men, to the baby Jesus.
Here’s a look at how this holiday is celebrated around the world.
In Madrid and the rest of Spain, locals eat a ring-shaped, cream-filled Roscón cake that is decorated with a paper crown while a king figurine or a dried bean is baked inside. Whoever finds the former gets to wear the crown while whoever finds the latter has to pay for the cake. In Barcelona and Catalania, the Epiphany cake is called Tortell or Gâteau des Rois and is filled with marzipan.
In Paris and beyond, the French feast on ‘Galette des Rois’, a marzipan cake with a toy baked inside, while the cake itself is topped with a gold paper crown. Whoever winds up with the toy gets to wear the crown.
Groups of young people called Sternsinger (also known as Star Singers) travel door to door dressed as the three Wiseman, plus the leader carrying a star. These singers will be offered treats at the homes they visit, but they also ask for donations for worthy causes. The young people then perform the traditional house blessing by marking the year over the doorway with chalk. This protects the inhabitants from evil in the upcoming year. They will write 20 + C + M + B + 16 (The year surrounds the traditional names of the Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar). Others claim the CMB stands for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” (Christ Bless This House)
It’s fitting that America’s most European City borrows from French traditions, a country that has a great influence on the city. The King Cake of New Orleans is usually made with cinnamon and pecans and is distinguished by vibrant purple, yellow and green sugar and icing. Whoever gets the piece with the baby will enjoy a prosperous and lucky year.
On Epiphany Eve, the children of Rome, Milan and beyond hang up stockings in anticipation of presents from an old lady named La Befana. This is in addition to the Christmas gifts they receive from Babbo Natale course. Most cities celebrate the national holiday with a parade, but Venice holds a regata during which men dressed as La Bafana race around the city’s signature canals.
Greece and Cyprus
Epiphany is known a “fota” in Greece and Cyprus which is Greek for lights and represents the fact that on this day God enlightened the world.
The day is celebrated by blessing the waters on beaches across both countries. Greek Orthodox priests toss a cross into the sea and boys and men jump in to quickly retrieve it. A more bizarre tradition is the Kallikantrzaroi, goblins who live underground but come to the surface during the 12 days of Christmas. To prevent them from destroying the earth, tradition has superstitious families throwing food on the roofs of their houses on as an offering to eat and then return underground without entering people’s homes.