In the traditions of Western Christianity, and especially (these days) the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Epiphany is the day that the three wise men (Magi) arrived in Bethlehem and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. It traditionally falls on the 6th of January, which is the twelfth day of Christmas. Cakes are eaten to celebrate the Epiphany in many parts of the Christian world, and are variously called “Epiphany cakes”, “kings’ cakes” (galette des rois), “king cakes” (if you live in New Orleans) or “Twelfth Night cakes.”
Here I should point out that traditions vary widely not only in terms of Epiphany cakes, but recognition of the Epiphany generally. In some Christian traditions the Epiphany is celebrated as the de-facto Christmas, since that’s the day that the existence of the infant Jesus was first made known to the world. His presentation to the Magi (credible outside witnesses) constituted his official “coming out” as it were. That’s what the term “epiphany” really means: an appearance or a manifestation. For this reason some Christians, quite understandably, view the Epiphany as the real “Christmas” and give gifts to one another in the tradition of the gift-giving of the Magi. Even so, for some Christians the Epiphany is less the celebration of Jesus’ presentation to the Magi than a recognition of his baptism in the river Jordan. Why? Well…it gets a little complicated.
My point is that if the religious traditions surrounding the Epiphany can vary this widely, it’s no wonder that the food traditions can vary just as much…even more, really. An “Epiphany Cake” can therefore be a lot of different things, some of which we’ll be getting into over the course of the week. Of course I can’t cover everything, so if some of you Epiphany-celebrating Christians out there want to email in with some of your favorite Epiphany memories (gustatory or otherwise), please do. I’ll post as many of them as I reasonably can. Should be a fun week!