Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a bit of a grumpy day for me.  Nothing festive happens.  It’s just the day for dismantling the Christmas tree, packing baubles and Christmas wreaths away for another year, and reading through Christmas cards from old friends for the last time before they’re taken off to some recycling point.  The house looks sparse and bare, and maybe in need of a spring-clean.

I think of Emily over in Barcelona. She’s not at work today because Twelfth Night is Epiphany.  It’s the day on which Spanish children at last get their Christmas gifts, because the Day of the Three Kings is when legend has it that the Magi presented their gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus.  As Emily points out, the main downside to this late arrival of gifts is that this is the very last day of the holidays: school tomorrow, and no time to get to play with those new toys.  Still, today is another chance to party and enjoy a family feast.

Our caganer is clockwork.  He does back-flips.
Our caganer is clockwork. He does back-flips.

It was Emily who may have been responsible for our finding ‘el caganer’ in our Christmas stocking this year.  If your Catalan isn’t up to translating this, let me explain.  It means, um, ‘the crapper’. El caganer is a little fellow in Catalan costume, squatting with his trousers down, and defecating.  Why?  Well, he’s a traditional part of Catalan nativity scenes. Maybe he’s a fertility symbol.  Most people these days prefer the idea that it shows that great or small, we all have the same very basic needs.

Caganers on a market stall.  Anybody you recognise here?
Caganers on a market stall. Anybody you recognise here? (Wikimedia Commons)

So these days at any street market, you can buy caganer figures who represent the Pope, the Queen, Barack Obama, a whole range of footballers – any personality you can think of.  And they’re just the same as us.  Even if it’s Twelfth Night, I don’t think I’ll pack away our little ‘el caganer’ just yet.

Galette des rois, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Galette des rois, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A dusty miller.
A dusty miller. (Wikimedia Commons)

And when we lived in France, Epiphany was the start of the Galette des Rois season.  As guests anywhere, you’ll be sure to be offered a slice of this almondy pastry confection.  Part of you wants the good luck of being the person to find the ‘fève’ within your slice.  This used to be a lucky bean, making you king for the day.  Nowadays it’s a small china figurine, and maybe quite collectable.  I’ve just been looking unsuccessfully for our little fireman ‘fève’: goodness knows where I’ve hidden him .  The downside of finding the lucky bean though,  is that it’s your turn to make the galette next time round.

Parts of Europe seem to be having fun.  Ho hum.  Here, it’s all too easy to be aware that there’s January to get through before we can think of the days lengthening and the arrival of Spring.

13 thoughts on “Twelfth Night”

  1. Epiphany is strange in the UK, usually everyone is back at work and it’s just another day. I confess that my decorations (bar the cards) came down on Sunday but I will have to be very careful and make sure everything is away. Apparently if not any remaining decorations have to stay up for a twelvemonth or you will be inviting the devil in. Who knew?
    And I love galette de rois!

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  2. The ‘figure in a cake’ thing is the same here, except they eat Roscon (or Tortell in Catalan) de Reyes, which…isn’t that nice. Everybody only eats it to get the figurine, and in some families everybody puts in 5 euros, meaning the one who finds the figurine is in the money.

    The children were horrible yesterday as they hadn’t slept much, so good luck to teachers today.

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  3. I learned a lot from this post! I’d never heard of el caganer–and I love the idea that you can buy him in so many incarnations! And, since Epiphany is not celebrated here, I didn’t know abut the galette either, although during Mardi Gras in New Orleans they serve a King Cake, which has a figurine of the baby Jesus baked in. I guess that the galette must be the inspiration for that.

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  4. The celebrations we don’t even know that go on…Really interesting post, although I do find the caganer tradition a ‘different’ but then so is the Mexican Day of the Dead. Bet the bad bout you had with your health didn’t help with your grumpiness.

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  5. I’m a big fan of el caganer, I’ve even seen him in the grand surroundings of Girona Cathedral. Savagearts will hopefully correct me if I’m wrong but when I was in Barcelona I seem to remember there being several items in the Tortell de Reyes – one a crown, which made you king or queen for the day and something else (a bean?) which meant the recipient had to pay for next year’s cake. Guess who got the bean?

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