Cut the cake to pick king for a night

Twelfth Night cakes are eaten on Epiphany, the final day of Christmas. / Photo by David Deutsch for AFR

The holiday season is not quite over. Remember the 12 days of Christmas? Jan. 6 is the last one.

In the beginning – or at least since ancient times – each of the 12 days was a feast day connected to a certain saint, beginning with St. Stephen (Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen).

The days between Christmas and Epiphany – when the three kings visited the baby Jesus – have historically been marked by feasting, merrymaking and gift giving (think gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense and myrrh).

“Most of Twelfth Night’s traditions were food-and-drink-related, with fruits, cakes and wassail particularly popular gastronomical focuses,” according to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va. “The tradition of taking down Christmas decorations on Epiphany, Jan. 6, persisted into colonial America, and many still observe it to the modern day, considering it unlucky to leave decorations up any longer.”

Vestiges of some food traditions also have persisted. The ancient Roman pagan custom of naming the master of Saturnalia by a throw of the dice was transferred to Twelfth Night celebrations involving cakes baked with a prize inside.

King cake (New Orleans), Twelfth Night cake (Britain), galette des rois (France), roscon de reyes (Spain), bolo rei (Portugal) and so on are cakes into which a bean or tiny doll are baked. If the prize is in your slice, you’re king for a night.

You can bake your own cake, call it whatever you want and pick your own prize. Or you can order Twelfth Night or king cakes from bakeries throughout the U.S.


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2 Responses to Cut the cake to pick king for a night

  1. Frank January 6, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    We play the ‘king game’ with friends and their kids every year. The kids really love it. It can get kind of competitive, though…

    • Profile photo of Bonny Wolf
      Bonny Wolf January 6, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      We did it with some friends last night and I was terribly disappointed not to win. Brings out the child in all of us.