Thursday 6 January 2011

Twelfth Night - The Feast of the Epiphany

Christmas tree in our hotel room on New Year's Eve
Twelfth Night marks the final day of Christmas celebrations and is the day on which all Christmas decorations should be taken down. It is said to be bad luck to leave them up after this time!

It is still an important part of the Christmas holiday in some parts of Europe. Spanish children leave out their shoes, hoping the Wise Men will fill them with presents as they pass by.

Meanwhile, Italian children hope that an old woman called Befana will leave a present for them. Legend has it that Befana lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The shepherds told her about the baby’s birth but Befana was too busy to visit. By the time she had finished her chores and travelled to the stable, the little family had departed. Since then Befana has wandered the world, searching for the baby and leaving a gift at every house in case he is there.

It used to be a tradition in England to bake a Twelfth Night cake containing a single bean. Whoever found the bean in their slice of cake became the Bean King or Queen for the day and could choose a partner to help them reign over the celebrations.

The Feast of the Epiphany is the day when the Christian church marks the arrival of the three Wise Men at the stable in Bethlehem. Many British children are doubtless quite confused by this as most school Nativity plays show the Wise Men (or Kings) coming to see the baby Jesus at the same time as the shepherds.

The three gifts presented to the baby were gold, as a representation of royalty, Frankincense as a symbol of God and Myrrh to signify suffering.


  1. Interesting facts on the Epiphany. We used to leave our tree up until Twelfth Night when I was a child.

  2. I had an epiphany once, but the wheels fell off.
    Okay, no, I'm being bad. Finally beginning to feel like myself after being sick for the better (or worst) part of a month.
    This is a nice, concise story of Twelfth Night, Janice. And nary a dog to be seen. Oops, there I go again. Sorry, but it's nice to be feeling better.
    Thanks for the information. I had somehow forgotten what the gold, frankincense and myrrh signified, and now am impressed by the prophetic nature of the gifts, especially the myrrh.
    I was one of those children who wondered why the three wise men were in all the nativity scenes if they didn't arrive until after Christmas. But of course they had to be there for the ubiquitous Sunday School nativity play, or three youngsters would be denied their stage debut.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  3. It used to be that that's when we took down our decorations, but once I started teaching we tried to get them down before school went back while we still had time. Interesting about Befana, I hadn't heard that story before.

  4. That is so interesting - I never knew that about it being when the Three Wise Men arrived at the stable.

  5. Thank you for this post! I really found this interesting. I remember seeing a children's book about Befana, but didn't know the history behind it. It's wonderful to learn different traditions from around the world.

  6. Yes I read about the bean Queen and king yesterday. Bean Queen is such a great rhyming title. Isn't there a European tradition realted to beans-French maybe-but it might be easter not this time of year. My memory is so bad!


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