Twelve nights, three kings and a cake

January 6, 2015, 4 Comments


Before I came to Switzerland, January 6th was the day for taking down the Christmas decorations. And getting rid of all those geese, swans, lords and ladies that my true love has spent the last twelve days sending me (though keeping hold of the five gold rings). But in Switzerland today is the day when the Feast of Epiphany is celebrated, not with a holiday but with a special cake, the Dreikönigskuchen or three kings’ cake. As cakes go, it isn’t too exciting, being less a gateau and more a giant currant bun, albeit one shaped like a flower. Or at least the kind of flower children draw, with a central circular blob and six uniform petals around the edge.

Having these seven joined segments makes the cake great to tear-and-share and, far more importantly, there’s an extra incentive to picking the right segment to eat. Hidden inside one is a little plastic king: whoever finds that gets to be king, or queen, for the day. Most cakes even come with a little cardboard crown for the winner to wear, assuming he isn’t in hospital after nearly choking to death on the figurine. Perhaps that’s why Britain doesn’t have a similar tradition; Health & Safety would never allow it.

All of this is, of course, to mark the arrival of the three kings (or magi or wise men) in Bethlehem. It had taken them twelve days of star-following to get there and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Luckily, none of those pop up in the cake, though a gold coin instead of a plastic king might be popular, if a little expensive. And that raises the question of what would Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar bring if they were giving their gifts today, not 2015 years ago? Gold, Chanel No5 and truffle oil? All with the receipt so that Mary could exchange them afterwards.

Of course, the three wise men would face two big problems nowadays. Firstly, twelve days after the birth, there’s no way Jesus would still be lying in the crib. He and Mary would have been sent home ages ago to make room for the next mother-to-be in the stable, er sorry, maternity ward. And secondly the travellers would never have reached the manger; they’d be stuck somewhere in a snow-related traffic jam waiting for the ploughs to come and dig their camels out.

Time to go to the bakery and buy a cake. The traditional type might be with raisins inside and flaked almonds on top, but I prefer the very Swiss version, with chocolate drops and crystallised sugar instead. They make up for the disappointment of never being the one to find the plastic figure. After years of twelfth nights, I’m still waiting to be king for a day.

4 Comments on "Twelve nights, three kings and a cake"

  1. Kim Winter Wednesday January 7th, 2015 at 11:02 AM · Reply

    The three kings would also face long immigration queues and intensive questioning from UK Border and customs officials (“Well, you might say it’s frankincense sir but are just carrying out our own checks”). However, if they bring enough gold they could probably qualify as non-doms.

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