When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
Ritual and Tradition ~
In many Eastern European households, following Mass, the Epiphany is a night to host a special meal, complete with a “King Cake” and exchange small gifts, commemorating the gifts that the Three Wisemen ~ Caspar, Melchoir and Balthasar ~ brought to the infant Jesus. For this reason, unlike the more colorful Mardi Gras celebration, the colors of the Epiphany are white and gold. Children are given “crackers”, decorated colored cardboard tubes filled with a tissue paper crown and small toy or treat, that have a small firecracker that makes a sound when the tube is tugged open. The children wear their “King Crowns” during the meal.
Some more traditional households will also chalk the letters C, B, M which has a dual symbology – first, to symbolize the first letters of the names of the three Magi, as well as for a request for a blessing – Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as “may Christ bless the house”- over the lintel of the door to the home. The initials are written in between the year. Eg: 20C+B+M13
K † M † B † 2009 written on a door of rectory in Lstiboř village, Czech Republic to bless the house by Christ (source: Wikipedia)
For Greek Orthodox communities, the Epiphany is one of the days of the “blessings of the water”. A procession, led by the priest holding a large crucifix, will take place down to the water’s edge, and the priest will bless the water and throw the crucifix into the water, to be retrieved by a parishioner and returned for a special blessing. Water from the Epiphany Day blessing is then used to bless and consecrate the homes of the faithful.
Recipe for King Cake: (also served at Mardi Gras in the Cajun south)
(not really a “Cake” but more like a filled sweet bread)
- 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
- 1/2 cup warm milk (110° to 115°)
- 1/3 cup shortening
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 4 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cans (12-1/2 ounces each) prepared almond cake and pastry filling (“Solo” is a popular brand)
- 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 to 4 tablespoons water
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, shortening, sugar, salt, egg and 2 cups flour. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).
- Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Roll one portion into a 16-in. x 10-in. rectangle. Spread almond filling to within 1/2 in. of edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
- Before icing with the glaze, if desired, make a slit and hide an almond or other surprise to represent the “King”. Whoever finds the almond in their slice is destined to have good luck for the year.
- For glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough water to achieve desired consistency. Spread over cooled cakes.
- Yield: 2 cakes