January 06

Twelfth Night
(Three Kings Day


Botticelli - Adoration of the Magi (Zanobi Altar) - Uffizi.jpg

The Adoration of the Magi
Sandro Botticelli

Twelfth Night is s a major holiday in most countries that have a strong Christian heritage where it has been a common tradition to extend the celebration of Christmas for twelve days, culminating in the Feast of the Three Kings, or as it is also known, Twelfth Night, Little Christmas, Día de Reyes,or Epiphany. The term Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning "manifestation". According to tradition, Christ manifested himself as the Messiah three times; his manifestation to the Magi; his manifestation at his baptism; and his manifestation at Cana when he turned the water to wine.*All three manifestations were supposed to have taken place on the same date, January 6, but in different years. Although the Cana manifestation is no longer commemorated, both the visit of the Three Kings and Christ's baptism are still celebrated on this day with great pageantry.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the baptism of Christ with the ceremony of "the blessing of the waters" during
which a bishop throws a crucifix into the ocean or a lake. Young boys dive for the cross and whoever retrieves it receives the bishop's blessing. The tradition is still followed in Greek Orthodox Churches in the United States.

In England,  the traditional Yule log was also kept lit until Twelfth Night in order to bring blessings and good fortune throughout the upcoming year. . Twelfth Night itself was a traditional day for plays or "mummings," and it is thought that Shakespeare's play took its name from the fact that it was first performed as part of Twelfth Night celebrations about 1601.

In Italy, Twelfth Night is associated with the appearance of  La Befina (an Italian corruption of the word Epiphany) the good witch who comes down the chimney on a broom to fill the children's stockings with presents if they have been good, or with stones if they have been bad. According to legend, was invited by the Magi to accompany them in their search for the newborn King. She initially refused because she was too busy sweeping her house, Later, she realized her error and tried to follow them, but couldn't find ther three kings. She continues her search to this day, riding her broomstick all over the world in search of Jesus. It is the custom for the children to leave a glass of wine and an orange on the table for her to nourish her on her perpetual search,

There is an old children's song about La Befana

  La Befana vien di notte,
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romana
viva, viva, la Befana!
La Befana comes at night
In tattered shoes
Dressed in the Roman style
Long live la Befana!

In Spanish countries, especially Mexico and in some Spanish communities in the United States, the feast is celebrated as El Dia de los Santos Reyes (The Day of the Three Kings) where figures dressed as the three kings leave presents in the children's shoes. There are often processions and parades often led by children dressed as the Three Kings, including an occasional camel. Preparations for Epiphany begin ten days before Christmas. Just as the three kings were guided by the shepherds' star, each family joins in a procession bringing sweets to the village square.  to fill piñatas,. The children have to try to break the piñata so that it bursts open like a horn of plenty, showering them with candies and small coins.

There were a number of mystical traditions incorporated into the original celebration, the significance of which has for the most part been lost. There is, however, one tradition which involves the baking of a special cake in which is placed a coin, bean, or tiny doll. The cake is cut into exactly enough slices to serve each guest and the guest whose slice contained the lagniappe is named Twelfth Night King and is expected to host the Twelfth Night party the following year.

This tradition continues in the special Twelfth Night Cakes that are indigenous to each country. The French celebrate the occasion with a Gateau de Rois (Kings' Cake) which is a simple puff pastry galette, sometimes served plain and sometimes filled with fruits and nuts. Mexicans prepare a Rosca de Reyos (Kings' Ring) which is a wreath-shaped sweet yeast bread decorated with candied fruit to represent a crown. In Holland, another sweet bread, Driekoningenbrood (Three Kings' Bread) is baked in a round loaf and decorated with cinnamon sugar and chopped nuts. In Germany, there is a similar bread called Dreikönigskuchen (Three Kings' Cake),


Gateau de Rois
(Three Kings' Cake)


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 TB flour
1/4 cup Amaretto


1&1/4 cup ground almonds
1 TB grated tangerine zest
1 lb puff pastry
1 egg


  1. Cream butter and sugar in medium bowl. Beat in yolks. Add flour, Amaretto, almonds, and zest. Beat well.

  2. Rollout 1/2 puff pastry into 10"-circle and place on baking sheet.

  3. Spread on almond filling, leaving about a 1" boarder. Dampen boarder with water.

  4. Rollout remaining 1/2 puff pastry into a 10" circle. Dampen edges .with waterPlace over circle with almond filling. Seal edges.

  5. Partially cut a spoke design in dough. Brush with egg glaze made by beating egg with 1 TB of water. Bake 35 - 40 minutes. Serve warm.

Rosca de Royas
(Three King
s' Ring)



Cake Ingredients
Glaze and Decoration Ingredients

2 cups flour
1/2 cup soft butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup blanched and ground filberts
1 pk dry yeast
8 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
1 TB grated orange zest
1 TB rum

1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 TB  butter
2 TB orange juice
1 tsp rum extract
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 doz candied cherries
1/2 cup candied green citron
1/2 cup candied yellow citron
  1. Dissolve yeast in 2TB warm water
  2. Mix dissolved yeast and remaining ingredients in a bowl until dough is formed. Chill dough in refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.
  3. Cut dough in half. Form two ropes about 2 feet long. Braid ropes to form circle. Place dough on greased pan. Cover with a clean towel and put in warm place to rise until doubled (between 4 to 4&1/2 hours).
  4. Preheat oven to 350º F. Bake cake in same pan on which it rose until lightly browned. Leave cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove and finish cooling on rack.
  5. Mix all topping ingredients except candied fruit. Glaze cake and decorate with glazed fruit to symbolize a jeweled crown.

(Three Kings' Cake)


Cake Ingredients
Frosting Ingredients
2&1/4  cups flour
4 oz fresh yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp lukewarm milk
7 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 chopped lemon
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 eggs, 1 separated
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in rum
1 cup chopped, mixed, dried fruit
2 TB powdered sugar
2 TB lemon juice
1/2 cup red candied cherries, halved

  1. Put 3/4 of all flour into a bowl, make a hole in the middle, put the yeast into it and mix
    it with a pinch of sugar and some of the lukewarm milk. Dust the mixture with flour,
    cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place for 15 minutes. Add the melted butter, salt, lemon, cardamom, egg, egg white, remaining milk and flour to the

  2. When the dough begins to form a ball, stir in raisins and mixed, dried fruit. Form dough into a
    log. Cut off 1/4 of the log, divide the 1/4 into 4 equal parts and form balls from each. Divide the remaining log into 4 parts and form balls from each.

  3. Grease well a springform pan with a central tube. Place dough into the pan, alternating
    large and small dough balls. Cover the pan and let rise in a warm place. Brush the dough
    with the beaten yolk and place in pre-heated oven (350º F) for approximately 30
    minutes. Cool cake thoroughly before removing from pan.

  4. Mix the powdered sugar with lemon juice to an icing consistency (not too liquid). Ice the cake and decorate with the candied cherries


© 2012 Gordon Nary