Kings, queens, spirits and parades: How do you celebrate Epiphany?

epiphany-222967-mHere we go bablarians! New Year’s come and for the majority of the people around the world it’s time to go back to work or school. The Christmas atmosphere is gradually fading away, with the closing of Christmas markets and the clearance sale of all the Christmas products left on supermarket shelves… but it’s not completely gone. For instance we, Italians, known for celebrations and parties, have recently had the chance to celebrate again all together a festivity which is almost as important as Christmas: Epiphany.

Those among you who have read my article on Italian Christmas traditions already know for sure how Ephiphany is celebrated in Italy. But what happens around the world during the night between the 5th and 6th of January? Does everybody praise Epiphany by waiting anxiously for an old lady that flies around on her broomstick, delivering sweets or coal to children?

Of course not, so let’s discover how Epiphany is celebrated outside the Italian peninsula.

1 – First of all, Epiphany is not a festivity for everybody. It is a Catholic feast but, even in countries like Germany where there is a huge percentage of Catholics, it’s not celebrated everywhere. And if in Italy primary school, middle school and high school students don’t get to see their desks until the 7th of January, in France on the 6th university students are already taking their first exams.

2 – Very important to say is that only in Italy we tend to praise the Befana more than the Three Kings, to whom the festivity is actually dedicated. In a lot of other countries people think that the Magi themselves deliver presents or coal to children. For this reason, in Spain, on the evening of the 5th children put in front of the door a glass of water for their camels, something to eat and a shoe in which the present that they wish to receive is going to be placed.

3 – In many countries parades are organized in order to party as a community on the 6th, and children often dress up, like during Halloween or Carnival. In Hungary, for instance, children dress up like the Three Kings and go around their neighborhood carrying a nativity scene, receiving some money to compliment them for the show. In Romania, they knock on doors asking to come inside and tell some stories in order to get candies or some money, while priests go around blessing houses. In Spain, on the 5th evening, “los Reyes Magos” (the Magi) march on the top of splendidly decorated camels, and in Iceland, to celebrate the fact that 13 days have passed since Christmas, they organize a candlelight walk in which take part 13 different Fathers Christmas and the King and the Queen of fairies, ending it with an amazing firework show. In Great Britain they celebrate the 12th night (Shakespeare’s one) during which they think that spirits can walk freely on Earth.

728px-Roscon_de_Reyes4- Last, but not least, a lot of traditional desserts are eaten on this occasion. The most famous derives from the pagan Ancient Rome, it was mostly eaten in France but then it was exported to a lot of other countries, including Spain (thanks to Philip V) and Italy. It is called “Galette des Rois” in French, “Roscón de Reyes” in Spanish and “Focaccia della Befana” in Italian. Usually made of puff pastry and stiffed with jam, it has a round shape and in its dough a fava bean is hidden (in Spain and Mexico presents or plastic little babies) and whoever finds it becomes the king or the queen of the day. In Mexico the one who finds it has to buy tamales for everybody on the “día de la Candelaria”, on the 2th of February.

I hope that anyone who knows this dessert has had the chance to eat it this year and those who read about it for the first time, well…write it down for next Epiphany!


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