In my motherland, Armenia, January, 6 is the Christmas Day. It’s time to gather with family once again, eat delicious food and, of course, commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
However, January 6 marks different traditions in different countries. I decided to highlight some of the most interesting facts about January 6 in the world.
As you’ve probably seen from my other posts, I am currently doing an exchange semester in Italy. Here Christmas day is celebrated on December, 25, like in most Catholic countries. On the other hand, January, 6 In Italy is associated with the figure of Befana, a broomstick-riding old woman who, on the night of 5 to 6 January, brings gifts to children and/or a lump of “coal” (really black candy) for the times they have not been good during the year. The legend told of her is that, having missed her opportunity to bring a gift to the child Jesus together with the Three Wise Men, she now brings gifts to other children on that night.
Brazil and other Latin American countries
In Brazil, the day is called Dia dos Reis (The Day of Kings) and in the rest of Latin America Día de Reyes, commemorating the arrival of the Magi to confirm Jesus as son of God. The night of 5 to 6 of January is known as Night of Kings (also called the Twelfth Night) and is feasted with music, sweets and regional dishes as the last night of Nativity, when Christmas decorations are traditionally put away.
In England, the celebration of the Night before Epiphany, Epiphany Eve, is known as Twelfth Night (The first night of Christmas is December 25–26, and Twelfth Night is January 5–6), and was a traditional time for Mumming and the Wassail. The yule log was left burning until this day, and the charcoal left was kept until the next Christmas to kindle next year’s yule log, as well as to protect the house from fire and lightning. In the past, Epiphany was also a day for playing practical jokes similar to April Fool’s Day. Today in England, Twelfth Night is a day for plays , still as popular as when Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed in 1601, and annual celebrations involving the Holly Man are held in London.
A traditional dish for Epiphany was Twelfth Cake, a rich, dense, typically English fruitcake. As in Europe, whoever found the baked-in bean was king for a day, but unique to English tradition other items were sometimes included in the cake. Whoever found the clove was the villain, the twig, the fool, and the rag, the tart. Anything spicy or hot, like ginger snaps and spiced ale, was considered proper Twelfth Night fare, recalling the costly spices brought by the Wise Men. Another English Epiphany dessert was the jam tart, but made as a six-point star for the occasion to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and thus called Epiphany tart. The discerning English cook sometimes tried to use thirteen different colored jams on the tart on this day for luck, creating a dessert with the appearance of stained glass.
In Finland, Epiphany is called Loppiainen, a name which goes back to the 1600s. In the 1500s the Swedish-Finnish Lutheran church called Epiphany “Day of the Holy Three Kings”, while before this, the older term Epiphania was used. In the Karelian language Epiphany is called vieristä, meaning cross, from the Orthodox custom of submerging a cross three times to bless water on this day. Today, in the Lutheran church, Epiphany is a day dedicated to a focus on missionary work in addition to the Wise Men narrative. Between the years 1973 and 1991 Epiphany was observed in Finland on a Saturday each year no earlier than January 6, and no later than January 12. After that time, however, the traditional date of January 6 was restored and has since been observed once again as a national public holiday. Piparkakut, or Finnish gingerbread cookies, in the shape of a star are a treat typically served on this day. These cookies are broken in the palm of one’s hand, while making a silent wish. If a piparkakku star is broken into three pieces, and all three are eaten without speaking a word, it is said that the wish will come true.
The Christmas tree is traditionally taken out of the house on Epiphany. While the termloppiainen means “ending [of Christmas time]”, in reality Christmas celebrations in Finland are extended to Nuutti’s ,or St. Canute’s, Day on January 13, completing the Scandinavian Twenty Days of Christmas.
In France people share one of two types of king cake. In the northern half of France and Belgium the cake is called a Galette des Rois. It is a round, flat, and golden cake made with flake pastry and often filled with frangipane, fruit, or chocolate. In the south, in Provence, and in the south-west, a crown-shaped cake, or brioche, filled with fruit called a Gâteau des Rois is eaten. Both types of cake contain a charm, usually a porcelain or plastic figurine, called a fève (“bean” in French).
The cake is cut by the youngest (and therefore most innocent) person at the table to assure that the recipient of the bean is random. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes “king” or “queen” and wears a paper crown provided with the cake. This person has a choice between offering a beverage to everyone around the table (usually a sparkling wine or champagne), or volunteering to host the next king cake at their home. This can extend the festivities through all of January.
Epiphany is known in Latvia as Trijkungu diena (Three Kings Day) by Catholics orZvaigznes diena (Star Day) by Lutherans after the custom of star singing, and the Star of Bethlehem which led the Magi to the Christ Child. In the past, bright stars of fabric were sewn onto the background of dark colored quilts, representing the night sky. Epiphany was a day of enjoyment, spent in horse-drawn open sleighs, and these quilts would then be taken along to cover the laps of the merry riders. If Epiphany Day was bright and mild and the sun “warmed the horses’ backs”, it was said that the coming year would bring only peace. If the night before Epiphany showed clear starry skies, it meant Latvia could expect a fine harvest in the coming summer. Weaving and wood-cutting were “bad luck”, giving both men and women a proper holiday, and if a dog was heard barking on Epiphany, one ought to look for his or her future spouse in that same direction. Special three corner apple cakes are eaten on this day, and as in other countries, star singing, visiting, and house blessings have been popular.
To sum up , enjoy!