I hope everyone had a wonderful Three Kings Day last week! We certainly did! I wanted to get this post out about Three Kings’ Day last week, but you all know about life with a baby, so here it is now for future planning. (By the way, here is my post from last year about this festival: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/07/three-kings-day/)
This is a holiday I just love,and there are many traditions surrounding this day (known as Three Kings Day, Epiphany or The Feast of Theophany, depending upon what country you live in and what religious traditions you follow) and the night before (known as Twelfth Night). There is more about all the different customs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany_(holiday)
Christians celebrate is that on the 12th night after the birth of Jesus, the Three Kings were led by a star to find Him in Bethlehem. They brought gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. This night marks the end of the Christmas season, and is also traditionally the time to take down the Christmas tree and all decorations (although some traditions do leave the Christmas greenery up until Candlemas on February second).
Many families make a cake for Twelfth Night, with a bean or pea tucked inside it for a little Queen or King to find! In England, Twelfth Night is a festive time for merriment and good cheer! (Wassail is a beverage associated with this night as well).
In Germany, children dress up as the Three Kings and go from house to house to collect money for a charity (and usually get a sweet or two for themselves and their fine singing!) In Scandinavian countries, there may be a procession of singers led by “Star Singers” that move from house to house. Russian children wait for Mama Babouschka to fill their shoes with gifts, as children in Spain wait for gifts from the Three Magi. Italian children wait for Old Befana to bring gifts as well. French families typically share a Kings’ Cake.
The day after Twelfth Night is Epiphany. Epiphany is actually one of the very oldest Christian festivals. Besides the Three Kings, also celebrated is the Baptism of Jesus and The Divine Manifestation of the Holy Trinity and the Revelation of Jesus to Man. There were some great pictures of people celebrating The Feast of Theophany (as the Orthodox church calls it), where waters are blessed and some people around the world plunge into cold waters in remembrance of this special day. See here for the pictures for this special blessing of the waters: http://sttheophanacademy.blogspot.com/2010/01/theophany.html
In some parts of Europe, it is customary to incense your house and cleanse it for this time. One then writes above the front door in chalk C+M+B flanked by the year (so for this year it would look like this: 20+C+M+B+10). The C,M,B can stand for the Three Kings themselves: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, although many of German friends say the C,M,B stands for “Christ Bless This Home” or a variant of that.
If you are wondering about the Three Kings, the authors of “All Year Round” write, “In the Gospel story we hear about Wise Men guided by a star; they are never referred to as kings, nor is it said that there are three of them. An unknown but powerful tradition has transformed these sages (the “Magoi” were Persian priests of the Zarathustrian religion) into three kings, representing them as young, middle-aged and old, and sometimes of three different races: the African, the Caucasian, and the Asiatic. They have also been given names: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.”
In Ireland, Epiphany was a day known as “Women’s Christmas” or “Little Christmas”, celebrated with a special meal of sandwiches and little cakes. Ruth Marshall, author of “Celebrating Irish Festivals: Calendar of Seasonal Celebrations” comments that “The stable/crib however remains in place, with the three kings there now, until St. Brigit’s Day.” So for those of you who have Three Kings that have traveled all around the room to get to the Infant Jesus, take note that these things can remain until Candlemas time!
So, what are some fun ways you could celebrate Twelfth Night and Three Kings Day in your family?
1. You could bake a cake – either a Kings’ Cake or make the Epiphany Cake on page 242 of “All Year Round” or the “Galette des Rois” on page 154 of “Festivals Family and Food.” You could also make wassail or some sort of spiced cider.
2. You could make Twelfth Night a night of games and merriment in your family, complete with riddles to solve, puzzles, games.
3. You could take down your Christmas Tree and all greenery. In “All Year Round”, the authors suggest “If the Tree disappears from the house mysteriously overnight, the place where it stood will appear less empty if a bowl of sprouting crocus or hyacinth bulbs are found there – a token of springtime yet to come.”
4. You could remember Three Kings Day in a quiet way and read the Gospel accounts of the Three Kings, perform a play as a family, and sing songs special to the occasion. You could also tell a story – the Legend of the Baboushka, or “An Epiphany Story of the Tree” on page 157 of “Festivals Family and Food”.
5. You could prepare for Plough Monday, the Monday after Epiphany. This used to be the official start to ploughing in England, and is often seen as a general “clean up” day to officially end the Christmas season.