The feast of the Epiphany is celebrated by Christians across the world on 6 January each year. In England, you must take down your festive decorations before the twelfth night, in Mexico City a mile-long Rosca de Reyes or kings’ bread is baked and eaten by 20,000 people. Here in Luxembourg, Dräikinneksdag gives you the chance to be the king or queen of the final seasonal festivities.
The Three Kings
The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the three wise men, who followed the star of Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus. The kings represented both age, from young to old, and the continents known to man at the time – so Melchior (Europe), Gaspar or Caspar (Asia) and Balthazar (Africa) and rode on a horse, camel and elephant respectively. The word Magi is thought to have come from the Persian word for priest, or “magoi” the Greek term referring to those who study the stars in search of God.
Dräikinnekskuch and the bean tradition
Luxembourgers buy a Dräikinnekskuch or Three Kings' Cake also referred to in the shops and bakeries as a galette des Rois. Made from puff pastry with a frangipane (almond paste or cream) filling, it is usually sold with a paper or plastic crown on top.
Traditionally a fève or bean is concealed inside the cake when it's baked, although today many contain porcelain figurines from the nativity or even well-known cartoon characters.
Whoever is lucky enough to find the fève in their slice of cake, gets to wear the crown and be king or queen for the day (so presumably doesn’t have to take down any decorations). This tradition is thought to date back to the Romans, who would hold a feast in honour of Saturn in early January and elect a king using a black or white bean.
Unfortunately, Dräikinneksdag is not a holiday in Luxembourg, although it is in some European countries including Austria, Greece, Iceland, Finland, Croatia, Poland, Sweden, Slovakia and Spain (where it was taken to Latin America and is celebrated with much gusto).
In Mexico City the kings' cake is 1.9km long, weighs more than 9 tonnes, and contains some 40,000 eggs.
The tradition of taking down the decorations was less of an onerous task in bygone days since it was the time to dismantle and gobble up gingerbread houses on display and sweets or oranges hung on the tree.
Luxembourgers in the Moselle region believe that if the eve of Epiphany is bright, clear and cloud-free, it will be a good wine producing year. The date also marks the time in the winter season when the days get longer and the nights less dark, and it is thought to have been a pagan celebration of light pre-dating subsequent Christian traditions.
Careful when you bite
One thing is certain, you should be extra careful when biting into your slice of cake, in case you are the lucky receiver of the figurine, and equally so if you plan to consume some rock-hard gingerbread. Otherwise the 7 January will become known as the day of the emergency dentist.