Girolamo da Santacroce - The Adoration of the Three Kings
Hello my Travellati friends,
Epiphany is widely celebrated in Catholic cultures around the world, in very different ways. What is Epiphany, you may ask, other than the Eureka of a bathtub-lounging scholar? Epiphany is a celebration on the Twelfth Day after Christmas, January 6, also known as “Twelfth Night” and “Three Kings' Day.” In Roman Catholicism, it marks the visit of the Three Kings or Magi to the baby Jesus.
In France, Epiphany is celebrated by sharing a cake, called a “galette des rois,” which contains a fève, which is a bean or a tiny statue, often in the shape of the baby Jesus. Whoever gets the fève in their piece of cake is the king (or queen) for the day and can select their queen (or king) from among the other celebrants. In practice, this means that a little girl will choose her Daddy as her king rather than her pesky little brother (sorry, Steve). I am speaking here from personal experience. The king and queen get to wear a gold paper crown for the day. The adult serving the cake tries to make sure that one of the children gets the fève. If the galette was baked at home, this is easy.
Traditionally, there are two kinds of galettes des rois: One is puff pastry filled with a soft almond frangipane, common in the north of France, the other is a crown-shaped brioche covered with candied fruits, common in the South. My preference is the northern style, which you can purchase at the Financier pastry shop in Manhattan around January 6.
In Bulgaria, January 6 is called "St. Jordan’s Day," on which the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist (known as St. Jordan in Bulgaria). The celebration takes places in the town of Kalofer, 150 km east of the capital, Sofia. A group of men enters an icy river carrying bagpipes made from sheep skins, drums, and musical instruments, making a plaintive racket that is not for the faint of heart, and dance the “Horo.” You can experience it for yourself on YouTube. In other parts of the country, the holiday is called "Krastovden" (Day of the Cross) or "Voditzi"(Waters). The first recorded celebration of St. Jordan’s Day in Bulgaria was in 917 AD.
In Italy, Epiphany is a national holiday that is celebrated as the last day of the Christmas season. The holiday is based on La Befana, a figure as popular as Santa Claus. La Befana is represented as a woman covered in a black shawl who rides a broomstick – sound familiar? It is believed that La Befana is in search of the baby Jesus and in her search, she gives children gifts on Epiphany Eve. On the day of Epiphany itself, there is no work or school and there are celebrations and parades throughout Italy.
In Florence, the citizens re-enact the journey to Bethlehem in the Cavalcade of the Magi, complete with horses and lavish period costumes. The event sets off from Piazza Pitti at 2 pm, crosses the Ponte Vecchio, and heads over to the Duomo where a nativity scene has been set up. This is a tradition that goes back to the 1400s and which even the Medici family used to take part in as actors in the procession, as depicted in the Gozzoli mural below.
Have your own epiphany! Travel the world, as the Magi did, to discover traditions, cultures, and flavors you had never imagined. To help you along, please join us on Saturday, January 28, at the New York Times Travel Show "Meet the Experts" session, where I will be answering questions about Hemingway’s Paris and Bowie’s Berlin from 1:00-1:45. Contact me for discount tickets and we can plan to meet up in person!
Reserve your room now for our Papa’s Paris Tour, set to start on June 17 from our lovely hotel in the heart of Paris’s ancient and romantic Latin Quarter, right across from Hemingway’s former apartment. We will take a leisurely week-long stroll back in time as we encounter Papa himself, Gertrude Stein, and the F. Scott Fitzgeralds. It may inspire your own epiphany!
As always, happy travels!