This morning I turned the Christmas tree lights on just as the sun was rising and carried the statues of the Three Kings from the porch to the
manger on the altar where they will variously stand and kneel in awe of the Savior of the World until Feb. 2.
That’s Groundhog Day in the secular world but Candlemas Day to Christians who remember that Christmas was once a longer season of light that carried the faithful to the brink of Lent, conveying them safely through the winter darkness.
Time was — read, when the nieces and nephews and godchildren were little — we’d make a very big deal of Epiphany in the house, reciting the Blessing of the Chalk and using said chalk to apply the Epiphany inscription over the door. We’d follow this up by consuming a lovely Rosca de Reyes — Three Kings Bread — in commemoration of the visit of the Kings to the Holy Family.
Tonight, it will be just brother Pete and me and yes, we’ll inscribe the blessing and have some bread. The kids aren’t little anymore, nor will they be coming over to join the prayerful merriment. Niece Sophia is back in Los Angeles, hard at work on her graphic novel. Nephew Patrick landed safely in India just yesterday, with a group of students he’s leading on this, his third long study visit to the subcontinent. Jeanne’s hard at work in the culinary world of Delaware, turning out memorable, edible fruit displays and Nick is completing his senior year in high school.
So Pete will apply the chalk — inscribing 20 + C + M + B + 11 over the front doorway. The letters have two meanings: they are the initials of the Magi — Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They also abbreviate the Latin words “Christus mansionem benedicat” – “May Christ bless this house.”
The crosses represent the Precious Blood of Christ and the holiness of the Three Magi. The inscription is made above the front door so all who enter and depart this year may enjoy God’s blessing.
Rosca de Reyes: Three Kings Bread
Ingredients: 1/3 cup warm water; 1 packet of yeast; 4 cups flour; 1 cup sugar; 4 large eggs, beaten; 3/4 cup butter – room temperature; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon anise seed; 4 teaspoons good vanilla extract; a tiny, plastic figure of a baby (you can get one in a craft store); about two cups of candied fruit cut into strips; 1 egg beaten to use as a wash; 1/3 cup powdered sugar for topping.
Directions: sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water and let it sit for 10 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast water, flour, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, cinnamon, anise seed and vanilla extract. Mix until a dough forms. Knead the dough for five minutes, then cover and let rise in a warm area until the dough has doubled in size (about 2 hours).
Punch dough down and shape into a wreath. You can do this by rolling it into a log shape and bending the ends around to form a circle. The wreath should be about 12-14 inches in diameter. Insert the “baby” into the cake by pushing it through the bottom of the cake. Smooth over the hole.
Add the dried fruit by laying it across the top and pressing it in slightly. Let the dough rise til doubled. Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
According to tradition, whoever gets the slice with the “baby” in it is supposed to bring the cake next year.