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Archive for January 6th, 2012

We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
  –  John Henry Hopkins

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, also called Little Christmas or King Day; as I explained in my column of one year ago today it is the day on which legend says the Magi (the “Three Kings”) visited the infant Jesus, and in the Middle Ages was the day on which Christians exchanged gifts rather than Christmas.  Even after the gift-giving shifted back to Christmas Day or Eve in the Renaissance, some cultures continued to give gifts to children on Little Christmas (or more specifically, the gifts are left while they’re sleeping on Twelfth Night).  In Spanish-speaking countries the gifts are left by the Three Kings, but in Italy they’re brought by a witch named Befana.  She’s usually portrayed as old (and there’s a traditional picture of her in last year’s column), but modern Italy being…well, Italy, sexy Befana images like the one here have also become very common.  But while Hispanic and Italian children opened their presents this morning, Russian and Ethiopian children won’t see theirs until tomorrow; for reasons also explained in last year’s column, Christmas Day in those countries falls on January 7th.

In New Orleans, today is the first day of the Carnival season; the first Carnival ball (that of the Twelfth Night Revelers) is tonight, and the others (not to mention the parades) are spread out between now and Mardi Gras, which this year falls on February 21st.  That also means today is the traditional day for taking Christmas decorations down, and the first day for eating king cakes; if any of you outside the New Orleans area want to share that tradition, the recipe appears in my Twelfth Night column from last year.  But remember, the cake can only be made and eaten between today and Fat Tuesday.

So, to my Italian readers, Buona Epifania!  To my Spanish-speaking readers, Feliz Día de Los Reyes! To my Ethiopian readers, Melkam Gena!  And to my Russian readers, S Roždestvom!

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