Festivals & Holidays — 05 January 2003
Twelfth Night – The Three Kings

How Should We Celebrate Twelfth Night – The Three Kings?

Ask Kytka Archives: January 5, 2003

Three Kings Day – Twelfth Night – Epiphany falls 12 days after the birth of Jesus and Christmas, on January 6. It marks the end of the Christmas holiday and many cultures take down decorations and burn the Christmas Tree. Almost all cultures share the celebration of a Twelfth Night Cake in which is hidden a dry bean and a tiny porcelain figurine. Whoever gets the piece containing the bean is charged with buying or baking next year’s cake and the person whose piece contains the figurine has to fulfill a dare by acting out a silly request. It’s meant to be fun….

On this day in my own homeland, Czech Republic, costumed kings with retinues would visit all of the farmsteads. I only heard of it as I grew up here – but my husband recalls this celebration fondly. Their clothes were seldom actually regal, rather they consisted of long furs, hats woven from thick sheaves of straw decorated with berry branches and so forth. The kings visited each house to greet its inhabitants with the news of Christ’s birth, to herald the new year and to wish them a good harvest. In order to guarantee that the kings’ blessings would be fulfilled, the farmers showered them with gifts.

three kings

This day commemorates the arrival of hope and charity in the world. According to folklore, in exchange for their gifts, the kings received the blessings of enjoyment, love, and peace. All non-material values important to teach children to remember in this battery-operated and sacks from Santa age!

A traditional drink called Lamb’s Wooll or Wassail is also consumed. It is a spiced ale (beer) made from ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and apples. Some families (especially those with younger children) prefer to drink warm apple cider.

Here are two recipes:

1 gallon apple cider
12 small apples, peeled with cores removed
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar, if cider is tart.
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large enameled pot, slowly heat 3/4 of the cider, until warm but not boiling. In another enameled pot, pour remaining cider and add the apples, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger and bring to a boil. Vigorously simmer the apples until they lose their shape and become “frothy”. Combine the two liquids and pour into a heat proof bowl. Whip the cream with the salt and brown sugar until it peaks. Spoon the cream onto the wassail, or add the cream to each tankard as it is served. Apple cider listed can be substituted by hard apple cider, dry white wine, light ale or stout beer.

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6 cups ale
pinch of cloves
1 cup sugar
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
6 eggs, beaten
pinch of ginger
4 roasted apples

Pour ale in a saucepan and heat. Add sugar and spices and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Gradually add a small amount of the hot mixture to the beaten eggs, as for custard. Return to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Place apples in a heat-proof punch bowl, and pour the hot mixture over.

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This is also the primary celebration of (what many of us know as) “Christmas” in Spain, Mexico, and the Caribbean, It is called el Día de los Reyes. It is marked by a visit to church and a family dinner. There is no Santa and the gifts are said to be carried by carried by the Three Kings. On the evening of January 5, children in many Hispanic cultures gather handfuls of grass to feed the Kings’ animals. They pack the grass in shoe boxes and put them under their beds, hoping the Kings will leave gifts in return. Many Hispanic cultures have each family members place their shoe in the living room. In the morning, the shoes are filled with presents. (How much can you stuff into a shoe? Now compare that to the HUGE sacks Santa carries – see my point!)

The focal point of the day is the gathering of people who care about each other, and the preservation of our past.

Recommended Reading:

Celebrating Christmas Together: Nativity and Three Kings Plays With Stories and Songs (Festivals (Hawthorn Press)

Hurray for Three Kings’ Day! (Hardcover)

External Links:

Feliz Navidad: Making Merry in Mexico

A Story for St. Nicholas’ Day

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Completely understand what your stance in this matter. Although I would disagree on some of the finer details, I think you did an awesome job explaining it. Sure beats having to research it on my own. Thanks

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