For many people around the world, January 6 is known as the Feast of Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Little Christmas, or Old Christmas, and marks the end of the Christmas Season. Tradition calls for the removal and burning of wreaths, trees and any evergreens left from the Christmas Season. In earlier times it was bad luck to leave evergreen decorations up past this date or to discard them by any means other then burning.
This date also holds significance in other ways; the people of Egypt celebrate the winter solstice celebrating the Nile River, many Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. Christian Churches celebrate the day as Three Kings Day or the day the Magi presented their gifts to the Baby Jesus. Miracles performed by Christ on this date include feeding 5,000 people from five loaves of bread and two fishes and turned water into wine.
In Russia, Spain and Italy, gifts for the children are left by Befana. According to legend,La Befana was a haggard old woman who cleaned from morning until night. As the three wise men passed by her home on the journey to find the Christ child, they invited her to come along. Begging off, saying she first had to clean, she promised to catch up. When she finally went to find the trio they were nowhere to be found. Till this day she wanders the earth leaving gifts on January 6, for children as she search’s for the Christ child.
In Turkey it was once the custom for the first male visitor to throw a pomegranate into the homes entrance as a wish for good luck. If the seeds spread widely it is a sign the household will have widespread happiness throughout the New Year.
January 6, is also the start of Mardi Gras or Carnival. This is a time of reverie and parties leading up to the solemn fasting and prayer that is Lent. In New Orleans a “King’s Cake is served at the first party thrown , gaudily decorated with colored sugar of purple, yellow and green, the colors of Mardi Gras. A small bean or small doll is baked inside the cake, and the guest that finds the hidden object, is the next to host a party.
Other countries celebrate the Feast of Epiphany with their own special cake or bread. In Turkey it’s Vasilopita or New Year’s Bread. In Mexico its Three Kings Bread, studded with “jewels” of dried fruit and nuts. Each cake or bread holds a bean, coin or doll inside. The person who finds the hidden treasure is said to have good luck through the following year.