As the Christmas season is upon us, we are looking forward to all the baking, gift making, twinkling lights, decorations and the cutting of the Christmas tree which has become a family tradition for us. This is the perfect time to make connections, within your own soul, within the family and within the community. Epiphany is a wonderful celebration for reaching out as well as bringing the Christmas season to a close.
While growing up in Central Europe, the festival of Epiphany was much anticipated by us children. Our parish pastor and a few select children dressed up as the Star Singers and made their round in the parish, singing songs and performing a play of the arrival of the Three Magi at the manger .
The tradition of the Star Singers began in the 16th century and is celebrated through most parts of Europe with slight variations from country to country. The singers carry a large guiding star ahead of them and are dressed up as the three wise men: Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior. They are followed by the pastor and by little angels who sing songs of the Christ Child and their message of peace.
At the end of the performance the singers collect a small donation for a worthy cause involving children, such as orphanages or homeless families. A blessing of the house for the coming year is always the last act performed by the pastor before leaving the home. As we are living in the United States now, our family is still honoring the tradition of celebrating Epiphany and this ritual, although in a slightly different way.
The day before Epiphany, on the twelfth day of Christmas, we bake an Epiphany cake with a golden crown atop which contains a hidden bean. The bean, when found by a family member, empowers the finder to be ‘king’ for the day and he or she may choose what activities will be done that day.
On the morning of Epiphany, we stand together at the front door and bless the house for the coming year with a prayer, initialing the front door with the marks of Christ and the new year: MM + C + M + B + X (20 + Christus + Mansionem + Benedicat + 10); “May Christ bless this house.”
At the end of the ceremony we go inside to take down the Christmas decorations and the tree. We also prepare our pinecone bird feeders made a few days prior by adding string to ease their hanging on the tree. Once the tree is decorated with the bird treats, we place it in the yard as a small gift to the winter birds of our garden.
The Christmas tree which has brought us much enjoyment throughout the season now brings joy to our feathered friends in the garden. The birds enjoy these treats at this time of the year as it is very cold in the northeast where we live.
After the tree has been ‘planted’ we go inside and have a piece of the Epiphany cake with our son, hoping that he will be the lucky one to find the hidden bean. As we watch the birds enjoying their treats through the window, while we enjoy a warm cup of tea with a piece of cake, I always think what a beautiful way this is for us to wind down the Christmas season and to begin the new year.
250g flour (or 2.5 cups)
250g butter (or 2 sticks)
250g sugar (or 1 1/4 cups)
125g glazed cherries or mixed dried fruit (or 1.25 cups)
100g chopped nuts (or 1 cup)
50g raisins, soaked in rum (or ½ cup)
Grated rind of a lemon
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
A dried bean
Melted honey for glazing the cake
Golden paper crown
Grease a 9 inch baking pan. Cream the butter and sugar together and stir in the beaten eggs. Next sift the flour, cinnamon and cardamom and gradually fold it into the mixture. Mix the nuts, dried fruit, raisins, lemon rind and the bean into the cake mixture.
Now pour the dough into the prepared baking tin and bake at 315 Fahrenheit for about 1.5 – 2 hours.
Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing it. Glaze the cake with the melted honey and finish it with a golden crown made from card stock. Enjoy!
Magdalena Kaska lives with her family of four in New Hampshire and enjoys reading, crafting of all sorts, seasonal celebrations and traditions that build the cornerstones of her families annual rhythm.
She lives in a naturally infused home where she tries to raise and homeschool her children with a holistic approach, all the while learning herself and trying to keep up with her energetic kids.