Treats of the Epiphany > Recipes I

Three Kings Day marks the end of the Christmas season and gives us one more chance to celebrate with delicious foods from diverse cultures.

Twelfth Night dinner, Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings or Three Kings Day, whatever you choose to call it, the celebration officially marks the end of the holidays.

These festivities, which cross many ethnic lines, recall the visit of the three wise men, or Magi, at Christ’s birth. For home cooks, it’s a time to revel in a culinary diversity with treasured dishes and traditions.

Three Kings Day is observed in Spanish-speaking countries as well as in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and England. Each country has its own tradition for observances, but most people celebrate with family, church and community gatherings.

Western Christians celebrate the Epiphany, when the three wise men visited baby Jesus, on January 6, 12 days after Christmas. In Spanish-speaking cultures, the holiday is called Three Kings Day, and it is also known as Twelfth Night.

On this evening, Puerto Rican children often leave grass under their beds for the kings’ camels. While the kids sleep, parents replace the grass with toys. The practice comes from the story about the wise men bringing treasures to the stable where Jesus was born.

In Europe, as far back as the 4th century, a King’s Day cake of some kind was part of the celebration. In 18th-century France, the cake of choice was a flaky pastry, gateau des Rois (cake of kings), filled with almond pastry cream. Today the most popular version, even in France, is a variation on brioche, a sweet dough embellished in whichever way the baker sees fit.

In Mexico, it is a time for giving presents to children and for having a merienda, or snack, of rosca de reyes, a sweet yeast bread made in the form of a ring. Hot chocolate is a favorite accompaniment.

Hidden in the dough is a token. The person who finds it has to give a party on Candelaria, or Candlemass, on February 2, a religious celebration of hope and light.

In Greek cookery, a sweetened, braided loaf is served during the Christmas season leading up to Epiphany, which is called “Christopsomo” or “Christ’s Bread”. But there is no token tucked inside the dough. A coin is inserted into the “Vasilopita” or “Saint Basil’s Cake” which is served on New Year’s Eve. Instead, the Christmas bread echoes northern Europe’s traditional fruit-studded cake.

Because Twelfth Night concludes the Christmas holidays, people traditionally have marked it with large gatherings and feasts to close the season. Today’s recipes will get you started on that menu.

And don’t take off those party shoes so quickly, Twelfth Night is also the official start of the Mardi Gras Season or the Carnival Season!

Steeped in tradition > Twelfth Night kicks off Carnival

When the Krewe of Rio celebrates Twelfth Night on Saturday, they will continue a relatively new tradition in Lafayette, but also one that is rooted in the liturgical calendar of the church.

The Carnival season begins January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. It is the first day of a season of celebration that leads to the final fling on Mardi Gras, which is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

January 6 also is known as Twelfth Night, because it is the last of the 12 days of Christmas. It’s known as Three Kings’ Day because it is celebrated as the day that the Magi brought gifts to the infant Jesus. It’s known as Little Christmas because it was the date that Christmas was celebrated until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

In Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve, which we now celebrate as Halloween. A King or Lord of Misrule was appointed to run the Christmas festivities, and the Twelfth Night was the end of his reign.

Janice LeBlanc, pubilcidad (Portuguese for publicist) for the new Lafayette krewe, said that it was partially by happenstance that the Krewe of Rio held its first ball on the Twelfth Night weekend last year, but now it has deliberately decided to officially open the local season.

“We thought we’d establish a tradition and hold our ball on the Twelfth Night weekend each year,” she said. “It may not always be on Twelfth Night itself, but we plan for it to be on that weekend.”

The krewe bases its theme on the annual celebration in Rio de Janiero, probably the earliest Carnival celebration in the New World. There are also well known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe. The Louisiana celebration combines elements of both.

This year, the Rio Ball moves to the Convention Center next to the Cajundome, LeBlanc said. “Spotlights and the sounds of the Amazon will accompany an indoor Parada of Rio’s Capita (Captain), Rei e Rainha (King and Queen) and Corte Real (Royal Court),” she said.

Taste of tradition > King cakes are served beginning on the feast of the Epiphany and then throughout the Carnival season. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found it was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers put a small baby, representing Jesus, in the cake. The recipient is expected to host the next king cake party.

A Multicultural Calendar

December 15 through January 6 > PUERTO RICO: NAVIDADES. Traditional Christmas season begins mid-December and ends on Three Kings Day. Elaborate nativity scenes, carolers, special Christmas foods and trees from Canada and the United States. Gifts given on Christmas Day and on Three Kings Day.

December 26 through January 1 > KWANZAA. American black family observance created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga in recognition of traditional African harvest festivals. Seven-day festival stresses unity of the black family, with a harvest feast (karamu) on the first day and a day of meditation on the final one. “Kwanzaa” means “first fruit” in Swahili.

January 1 > GREECE and CYPRUS: SAINT BASIL’S DAY. Saint Basil’s or Saint Vassily’s feast day observed by Eastern Orthodox Churches. Special traditions in Greece and Cyprus, include serving Saint Basil cakes, called Vasilopitta, each of which contains a coin. Feast day observed on January 14 by Orthodox Churches using the Julian calendar such as the Russian Church.

January 1 > NEW YEAR’S DAY > ANNIVERSARY OF THE OPENING OF ELLIS ISLAND. Opened on this date in 1892. Over the years, more than 20 million immigrants were processed through the stations. Island was also used as a point of deportation as well. In 1932 alone, 20,000 people were deported from there. Closed November 12, 1954 and declared a national park in 1956. Reopened as a museum in 1990.

January 1 > HAITI: INDEPENDENCE DAY. National holiday commemorating the proclamation of independence in 1804. Haiti, occupying the western third of the island Hispaniola (second largest of the West Indies), was a Spanish colony from its discovery by Columbus in 1492 until 1697. Then it was a French colony until independence was declared in 1804.

January 6 > GREECE and CYPRUS: THEOPHANY of the Eastern Orthodox Church is observed in Churches using the Gregorian calendar (January 19 in Churches using the Julian calendar). This feast day celebrates the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus at the time of His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

January 6 through February 20 > CARNIVAL SEASON. Secular festival preceding Lent. Time of merrymaking and feasting before the austere days of Lenten fasting and penitence (40 weekdays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday). Depending on local custom, the season may start anytime between November 11 and Shrove Tuesday. Celebrations often include theatrical aspects such as masks, costumes and songs. Observed traditionally in Roman Catholic countries from Epiphany through Shrove Tuesday.

January 6 > EPIPHANY OR TWELFTH DAY. Known also as Old Christmas Day and Twelfthtide. On the twelfth day after Christmas, Christians celebrate the visit of the Magi, the first Gentile recognition of Christ. Epiphany of Our Lord, one of the oldest Christian feasts, is observed in Roman Catholic Churches in the United States on a Sunday between January 2 and January 8.

January 6 > ITALY: LA BEFANA. Epiphany festival in which the “Befana,” a kindly witch, bestows gifts on children, toys and candy for those who have been good, or a lump of coal or a pebble for those who have been naughty. Festival begins on the night of January 5 and continues with fairs, parades and other activities.

January 6 > THREE KINGS DAY. Major festival of the Christian Church observed in many parts of the world with gifts, feasting, last lighting of Christmas lights and burning of Christmas greens. Twelfth and last day of the Feast of the Nativity. Commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Neb (Kings or Magi) to Bethlehem.


January 8 > GREECE: MIDWIFE’S DAY OR WOMEN’S DAY. Honors midwives and all women. On this day, women stop their housework while the men do all the chores and look after the children.

January 17 > MEXICO: BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS AT THE CATHEDRAL. Church of San Antonio at Mexico City or Xochimilco provides best sights of chicken, cows and household pets gaily decorated with flowers. (Saint’s Day for San Antonio Abad, patron Saint of domestic animals.)

January 17 > POLAND: LIBERATION DAY. Celebration of 1945 liberation of the city of Warsaw from Nazi oppression on this day by Soviet troops. Special ceremonies at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Victory Square (which had been called Adolf Hitler Platz during the German occupation).

January 17 > SAINT ANTHONY’S DAY. Feast day honoring Egyptian hermit who became the first Christian monk and who established communities of hermits; patron Saint of domestic animals and Patriarch of all monks. Lived about AD 251-354.

January 20 > FIRST OF MUHARRAM. Islamic New Year.

January 29 > ASHURA: TENTH DAY. For Shia Muslims, commemorates death of Muhammad’s grandson at the Battle of Karbala. A time of fasting, reflection and meditation. Jews of Medina fasted on the tenth day in remembrance if their salvation from Pharoah.

February 14 > VALENTINE’S DAY.

February 18 > CHINESE NEW YEAR.


February 21 > ASH WEDNESDAY.


Carnival celebrated with variations of the King Cake

Traditionally, Carnival begins on 12th Night, or 12 days after Christmas, which falls on Saturday. In the Crescent City, krewes and revelers have marked the occasion for decades with 12th Night celebrations. To the west, Lake Charles has staged a huge 12th Night celebration for years. Best of all, the public is invited.

The Feast of the Epiphany (or 12th Night) celebration, hasn’t been as prominent in Acadiana, but it may grow to be. The Krewe of Carnivale en Rio will have the season’s first ball, and the Boys and Girls Club will hold a Carnival-themed gala on that night.

Maybe you’re interested in starting your own 12th Night tradition. Naturally, food will be part of the plan. There are many recipes that have been passed on to us from the European cultures that hold an Epiphany event. All seem to have one thing in common, a pastry or confection.

We all know the King Cake, which celebrates the three kings who visited the newborn King when he was 12 days old. It is made from sweetened dough shaped in a ring or king’s crown. In modern France, there is a Galette des Rois, which is made from puff pastry and conceals a bean.

The most interesting one I noted is the Spanish Epiphany Bread. Instead of piling on heavy icing, the bread is topped with slivered almonds and candied fruits. As with a king cake, one would hide a coin or bean inside. The person who finds the coin inside his or her slice of bread will be crowned the king or queen of the evening.

Recipe follows > please check under our Festive Recipes category.