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
Día de Reyes,or Epiphany.
comes from a Greek word meaning "manifestation".
to tradition, Christ manifested himself
three times; his manifestation
to the Magi; his manifestation
his manifestation at Cana when he turned the water to wine.*All
were supposed to have taken place on the same
6, but in different
the Cana manifestation is no longer commemorated,
both the visit
of the Three Kings and Christ's baptism are still celebrated on this day
The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the baptism of Christ with
the ceremony of "the blessing of the waters" during
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.
England, the traditional Yule log was also kept lit until Twelfth
Night in order to bring blessings and good fortune throughout the upcoming
. 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
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
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
is celebrated as El Dia de los Santos Reyes (The Day of the Three
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.
a number of mystical traditions incorporated into the original
celebration, the significance
of which has for the most part been lost.
There is, however,
tradition which involves the baking of a special
coin, bean, or tiny doll. The
cake is cut into exactly
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
the following year.
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
(Three Kings' Cake)