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Dreikönigstag: How does Switzerland celebrate 'Three Kings Day'

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
Dreikönigstag: How does Switzerland celebrate 'Three Kings Day'
What you need to know about Three King's Day in Switzerland: (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Different parts of Switzerland mark Three Kings Day on January 6th in different ways and it's only a public holiday in certain parts of the country.

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Be royalty for the day: Swiss families mark the end of the festive season by competing against their loved ones for the plastic king. Here's the story of the Dreikönigstag and its cake - that really isn’t a cake at all!

The Feast of the Three Kings or Epiphany is celebrated by many Swiss each year on January 6th. Though it has become a much-cherished tradition across Switzerland, it is only a recognised public holiday in Ticino, Schwyz, Uri, and some parts of Graubünden.

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So, what’s behind the Dreikönigstag?

Historians assume that the Epiphany festival, or Dreikönigstag, has existed in Switzerland since 1311. According to Western belief, Epiphany refers to the three wise men from the who were led to Jesus by the Star of Bethlehem.

January 6th is known as the day they found the boy in Bethlehem. As said by legend, the three kings were called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar and Jesus received a gift from each of them: frankincense from Caspar, gold from Melchior and myrrh from Balthazar.

Why celebrate with a cake?

The idea of celebrating this day of the Epiphany with the Epiphany cake, or Dreikönigskuchen (galette des rois in French), has its origins in the Roman Empire. In the Roman Empire there was a feast day on which Saturn, the god of the land, was honoured.

A cake containing a bean was eaten in his honour and whoever found it was hailed as the Bean King. This festival later caught on in other countries and went well with the Epiphany, so the Roman custom was combined with the Christian festival.

How does Switzerland celebrate?

When it comes to the Epiphany cake, Switzerland likes to go all out. In fact, in hardly any other country is the custom of the Epiphany cake as widespread as in Switzerland. On average, 1.5 million cakes are sold annually, which is roughly one cake per household.

The cake’s popularity began to rise in the 1950s when art historian Max Währen helped propel it to fame with the help of the Swiss Bakers and Confectioners' Association. Today, the cake is still Switzerland’s best-selling specialty confectionary and is no longer only celebrated at home, but also in the office!

What’s the cake made of?

The cake is baked with yeast dough, milk, sultanas and has a round shape. Once ready, a crown is placed in the middle which is then handed to the person who finds a plastic king hiding inside the cake. And as for the reward, the king gets to enjoy a chore-free day that on Dreikönigstag – as is custom with royalty.

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