Twelfth Night: Celebrating the Last Day of Christmas with Cake & Tradition

9 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

"While the celebration of Christmas once lasted for 12 days, now it seems to start in early October. Too often, the Christmas holidays can whimper to a close in January, and I like the idea of one final, festive night to enjoy the music, the candles and the confections of the most special season of the year." ~ Culinary Types

(Read more about Twelfth Night and get the recipe for a Twelfth Night Cake from Culinary Types)

Across the world, Twelfth Night is celebrated in many ways, with many food traditions.

Many of us can sing all twelve verses of the Christmas-ditty gifts from our true loves, a partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds -- and my personal favorite, belted out by children's voices long and loud, "fiiiiiive gooooooooolden rings". But how many of us remember that the twelve gifts signify the twelve days of the Christmas season?

In the traditional Christian calendar, the season of Christmas begins on December 25th and ends twelve days later on what's called Twelfth Night on January 6th. Twelfth Night marks the day when the Three Wise Men reached Bethelem. In the Christian calendar, the season of Epiphany follows the season of Christmas, so January 6th is often also marked as the Feast of the Epiphany, the season that lasts until the beginning of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, in 2009 on February 25.

Photo by Andrew Barrow
Photo by Andrew Barrow
Britain - Twelfth Night & Twelfth Night Cake

Spittoon Extra ~ Twelfth Night Cake
"... throw out the holly, pack away those decorations and move the tree back outside - for it is Twelfth Night. As with so many Christian festivals, Twelfth Night has its roots in pagan traditions; it is a time for games, feasting and general merriment. The festivities would be controlled by a King of the Bean or Queen of the Marrowfat. A bean or pea is cooked into a cake, whoever finds the pea or bean in their slice is crowned the King or Queen of the day."

Mexico - Three Kings Day & Rosca de Reyes

World on a Plate ~ Rosca de Reyes Cake
"Traditionally in Mexico, Three Kings Day was the gift-giving time, rather than Christmas day. In some rural regions of Mexico it is customary for children to leave their shoes out on the night of January 5, often filling them with hay for the camels, in hopes that the Three Kings would be generous. Mexican children would awake on January 6 to find their shoes filled with toys and gifts. Today many will write a letter to the kings (or choose one king as their favorite) asking for their special gifts and will leave the letter on the eve of Three Kings Day in an old shoe, under a bed."

France - Feast of the Epiphany & Galette des Rois

Chocolate & Zucchini ~ Galette des Rois
"The fabulous thing about a Galette des Rois, apart from its deliciousness, is the family ritual that goes with it: the youngest child of the family hides under the table, an adult divides the galette in even slices, and the child calls out which slice goes to whom. Why all the fuss you ask? Aah, it is just this small thing I forgot to mention: la fève is hidden in the galette. Historically a dry fava bean (hence the name), it is now a little porcelain figure. That figure should normally have some kind of religious meaning, but I've seen too many fèves in the shape of Disney characters to still have any illusion. Whoever gets the fève in his serving is named King (or Queen) for the day, gets to wear the golden paper crown that came with the galette, picks who the Queen (or King) will be, and glows with pride for weeks hence." (Here's a recipe for homemade La Galette des Rois Epiphany Cake from Hot.Sour.Salty.Sweet.And Umami.)

Ireland - Women's Christmas

Eat Drink Live ~ On the Twelfth Day
"January 6 was once celebrated in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan or Women's Christmas. With pinkies raised high in front of tables laden with cakes, sandwiches and many pots of tea, us laydees thanked ourselves for all the hard work put in pampering the menfolk throughout Christmas. Perhaps seeming a little old-fashioned nowadays when the workload is more equally shared (ahem), it is a largely forgotten tradition that was revived in my house today with tea and scones and lashings and lashings of gingerbread. Tomorrow the decorations come down and our lives become just a little less sparkly."

United States - Epiphany & Kings Cake

My Own Sweet Thyme ~ King Cake
"My family often celebrates Twelfth Night or Epiphany, which falls on January 6, the 12th day of Christmas. We set the table with English Crackers and have a King Cake for dessert. Whoever gets the piece with something special inside is given a small present. King Cake is similar to a coffee cake or tea ring. It is a yeast dough, often braided, traditionally shaped in a ring or oval, perhaps to represent Christian unity or the circular route taken by the Magi to avoid King Herod, and decorated with colored sugar. The colors used are the colors of Mardi Gras, purple to symbolize justice, green to symbolize faith, and gold to symbolize power. Perhaps the three colors also represent the three kings. I have also read of King Cakes being decorated with red sugar to symbolize the life of Jesus." (A King Cake is served all the way through the Epiphany, so right up until the beginning of Lent.)

And you?
And you, do you celebrate Twelfth Night? Leave a link to a post in the comments!

BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg takes down her Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night and tonight will be cooking her own January tradition, Weight Watchers recipes.

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