Three KingsIn the UK today, the Christmas period tends to end with New Year, but in Tudor times there were twelve days of feasting and merriment, stretching from Christmas Day to Epiphany, the feast day celebrating the visitation of the Magi to baby Jesus.

If you watched the Tudor Monastery Farm Christmas Special, you will know that Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany, was the culmination of the feasting and revelry. It was the last blast before things went back to normal and people went back to work. Tudor people would feast on sumptuous foods and then share Twelfth Night Cake. Ruth Goodman made one and explained that it was a rich bread made with lots of eggs and butter and expensive ingredients like dried fruit and spices. A dried pea was hidden inside it and the person who found the pea became the Lord of Misrule and was in charge of leading the celebrations and revelry. Games were played and the Tudor Monastery Farm team played these traditional games, which included two people tossing an egg to each other and gradually moving further apart (the loser was the one who dropped the egg), and snapdragon, where raisins were soaked in brandy and set alight and people had to try and retrieve as many raisins as they could. The revellers from Tudor Monastery Farm’s banquet then went wassailing, singing traditional carols and spreading goodwill in return for some food and drink.

Epiphany is still an important day in many countries today. Here in Spain, Christmas Eve and Epiphany are the most important days of the Christmas period. Santa Claus is gradually creeping in, but Spanish children receive their Christmas gifts from the Three Kings who visit their homes during the night of 5th January. In my village, the Three Kings arrive on the back of a truck and throw sweets out to the villagers who process after them. Then, we all go to our local theatre where the Kings call the children up to the front to give them their presents. Tim took some photos at last night’s celebrations and here they are:






We also have a Twelfth Night cake, here it is called a Roscón de Reyes (Kings’ Cake). Inside the cake are hidden various things, including a bean and a King figure. Whoever finds the bean has to pay for the cake and whoever finds the King is crowned King of Epiphany, with the paper crown that comes with the cake, and will have luck for the year.

Here is a Roscón from last year:

You can watch the Tudor Monastery Farm Christmas Special on YouTube at

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9 thoughts on “Happy Epiphany!”
  1. Hi Claire,

    I’m wondering why this post didn’t appear in my email? The one about the wedding of Henry and Anne of Cleves did.
    Always enjoying your posts, and want to see them all! 🙂


    1. Hi Anira,
      I don’t email out every post, I tend to email once or twice a week, but this one actually was in the second half of the email. If you scroll down your email, there is a heading “Happy Epiphany” with an excerpt from this article and a “Read more” link. Thank you for your encouragement and I’m so glad you enjoy my posts. 🙂

  2. So happy to learn all about these other traditions, it’s not always easy to get it here in the United States, where it seems we only care what ‘we’ do for the holidays! Thank you

  3. I think that the Twelve Days of Christmas were celebrated so festively because the period before Christmas, Advent, was a time of fasting and contemplation similar to Lent, at least in Catholic countries. So they couldn’t really cut loose until after Christmas. The Twelve Days in England didn’t survive Cromwell. In this country, it was illegal to mark Christmas day in any festive fashion in Massachusetts and parts of New England until the 19th century. The Puritans settled that part of the country. The Roscon de Reyes looks a lot like a ‘King Cake’ which is a tradition in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Alabama. It is eaten for Mardi Gras, and I believe there is a king figure hidden in it. Of course, New Orleans belonged to Spain from 1783 to about 1803 when Napoleon took it back and sold it to us.

  4. Happy Epiphany! We were meant to have wild boar steaks tonight but have put them off as we are both still unwell so the weekend will be a tripple celebration of 12th night, Epiphany and New Year. I am making a cake as on the Tudor Christmas with minced meat; and we are having a belated New Year party in church on 11th as now everyone is better to enjoy it. I will not be going waysailing as I may start the dogs howling but wish all the best just the same. A great tradition. I want to bring it back, please! Today is also the Eastern Christmas and 7th is the Armenian Christmas and we celebrate with them.

    King James of Scotland and England when a young man asked his tutor for a day off on 6th January and his tutor being a strict follower of Calvin who had done away with such notions as saints days looked at him sternly and asked what he wanted with such nonsense; which saint is it. James advised him that it was not to celebrate a saint but was the Feast of the Epiphany. His master was bemused and asked him and knowingly what was meant by this feast. James told him that it was the Greek word for Revealling and was the revealling of the Christ to the world and when God became known to the world. His master, impressed by his knowledge allowed him half a day off his schooling. James never took to the teachings of his Puritan tutors but much respected his first master; remembering him with fondness even when he rejected all the other teachings of Calvin. So, even for James VI and I this was an important day. I love this story as it humanises a man who was known for his intellect and his teachings on witches.

    The magi had come from three different countries and travelled for three years according to one tradition. In Cologne Cathedral there is by tradition the three skulls of the wise men, and they are known to be of three different ages and origins: an old man, a middle aged man and a young man. Early paintings show them in Persian and Indian dress and the word Magi has its origins in the Eastern parts around Iran and Etheopia. They came and paid homage to the King of Kings and there is a tradition in the religion of these parts Zoroastrianism that there will be a final Saviour or revealling of Ahura Mazda: the equivilent of Yahweh born on 25th December before the final 1000 years begins to mark the march towards the end of the world. It is also believed that the birth of Jesus is mentioned and marked in the prophecies of Zororaster and the Eastern Texts of the Magi. The gifts they brought all represent kingship, renewal and sacrifice.

    That Jesus was also first revealled or shown to the shepherds is of great significance to me as it shows that he cared more for the ordinary person and wanted the ordinary people to take the knowledge of His Presence to the rest of the world. It must have been some sight that the royal herdsmen saw that evening and the coming into the place where the Holy Family stayed moves me to the heart. All of humankind was there that day; and all of the animals were reperesented too. It was a revealling of divine truth and divine mercy. Amen. Jesus is with us. Happy Epiphany and a good 2014. Peace.

  5. Claire,

    Thank you for posting. I love learning about different celebrations and traditions, both old and current. I am in the US and I so wish we had these programs to watch; they are so enjoyable. Happy New Year!

  6. Hi Claire!! Feliz Año Nuevo y Felices Reyes!

    seeing this made me more nostalgic about the celebration in Spain (I’m from Valencia)
    Living in Aberdeen we still give presents on behalf of the 3 Kings, but my kids are more Scottish than Spanish (Both born abroad) so we try to treat Santa and the Magi the same way
    But I truly mss it so thanks again for bringing this pics to me

  7. Down come the decs and the tree, the house looks so ’empty’, the shops sweep away all the commercial traces of Christmas like it never happened, and everything seems so flat and dull…. Unless you live in Burghead, a once thriving fishing village in the North-east of Scotland, where they have the ‘Burning of the Clavie’ on the 11th of this month, which was the original Hogmanay (New Year Day) before the calendar was changed from the Julian one to the Gregorian calendar
    It is a ‘strange’ custom of fire, and there are many different theories of how and when it started.

    Basically it is a barrel on a pole filled with wood and peat, set aflame, and carried on the shoulder of the chosen ‘Clavie King’ up and the streets of the village. It is a luck bringing tradition, and the carrier stops to give smouldering pieces from the barrel to local inhabitants to bring them luck (or burnt fingers if you’re out of luck 🙂 ) and to refuel. To end the ceremony the ‘Clavie’ is carried up to the summit of Doorie Hill, followed by the gathering crowd where it is place on a bonfire on a specially constructed stand on the ramparts of an ancient fort. After the Clavie falls, pieces are collected by the ‘Clavie Team’ and handed out to members of the crown, it is a spectacular sight to see, and it is overseen by a team of vigilant safety officers, because I have no doubt the strict rulings of Health and safety boards given the chance would love to stop this fire festival…

    My sister lives there, and I live close by, and have seen it a few times. My sister was also given a piece of the Clavie too last year, quite a coveted thing to receive.. and those of us who miss the decorations, fairy light and Christmas trees, go to Burghead, because the traditionalists do not take theirs down indoors, and the street decs are still up and shining in the dark until ‘The Burning of the Clavie’
    ceremony is over…

    It’s a wonderful spectacle to see, and used to be carried out in other parts of Scotland in times past, but, it gradually died out, and now it is only done in Burghead.

    Perhaps I should have posted this under the Happy New Year post, but because it falls 11 days after, and as the Epiphany is seen as the last day of Christmas to most, in Burghead the 11th is considered their last day of Christmas, so I thought this was a more appropriate place to post it.

    There is a lot of info on the net if anyone is interested in this old tradition, with lots of colourful photos, just type in The Burning Of the Clavie, and you will get a good choice of articles.

  8. Out here on “The frontier” (The Spanish/Portuguese border) the cake is known as a Bolo or Bolso in Portuguese. By sheer concidence, I was finishing off my last piece as this article appeared! Being on my own now, I have a diddy one, with no goodies.Just as well, as the first time I had one, I knew the tradition of the pea, however no one had warned me that other things lurk insde, so I nearly choked on a tiny figure of Winnie the Pooh! I wonder if it would have qualified as murder? Death by Winnie the Pooh!

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