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Lansing Historical Society celebrates Epiphany

Barb Dust closes Festival of Lights with a new tradition

story and photos by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (January 6, 2018) – When Curator Barb Dust realized that the ending of the Festival of Lights would coincide with Epiphany this year, she began looking for a Three Kings cake. The cake—also known as King Cake, Twelfth Night Cake, Epiphany Bread, or Rosca de Reyes—is part of of the traditions surrounding the observance of Epiphany in many cultures. Dust turned to Lansing’s La Rosa Bakery for the cake and had it ready when the Festival of Lights opened at 11:00 this morning for its last day.

Lansing’s La Rosa Bakery provided the Three Kings cake that the Lansing Historical Society included in its observation of Epiphany.
King cake is like a coffee cake in texture.
The cake is like a coffee cake in texture, and it is formed into a ring to give the appearance of a king’s crown. Baked inside the cake is a small Baby Jesus doll, a reference to the King sought by the Three Kings (or wise men, or magi). The person who discovers the Baby Jesus in his piece of cake is honored as “king for a day,” ending at midnight on January 6. In some traditions, the winner is also responsible for hosting the next month’s party.

Epiphany around the world

In many countries and cultures the Christmas season extends to January 6, and Epiphany is the culmination of the gift-giving holiday. The Lansing Historical Society began adding Epiphany exhibits to their Festival of Lights displays about three years ago. This year’s display included explanations of Epiphany traditions from the following countries:


The Italy exhibit includes a La Befana doll and a sign that explains that she brings toys and sweets to good Italian children during the night of January 5.


“The evening of January 5 marks the Twelfth Night of Christmas and is when the figurines of the three wise men are added to the nativity scene. In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, Santa Claus doesn’t hold the cachet the he does in the USA. Rather, it is the three wise men who are the bearers of gifts, who leave presents in or near the shoes of small children. Mexican families also commemorate the date by eating Rosca de Reyes.”


The sign in the France exhibit describes the different kinds of king cakes that are part of Epiphany celebrations in different regions of France.


The faithful in Greece celebrate Epiphany by Blessing the Waters.

Poland, Bavaria, and other Catholic countries

Variations of this inscription appear in chalk above the doorways of homes in Poland, Bavaria, and other Catholic parts of the German-speaking world. It is a blessing that invokes the traditional names of the magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar), surrounded by the current year.


Epiphany celebrations in England involve yule logs, plays, Twelfth Cake, spices, and different colored jams.
Peter Henderson

A delightful discovery

Heritage Middle School student Peter Henderson was the first guest at the Epiphany celebration, though he declined the cake. He had spent the morning at the library reading and decided to take a break. “I wanted to explore,” he explained. “I’m like, ‘I haven’t been down here [in the museum] in a long time. Let me come down here and see what is going on.'” Unaware that today was Epiphany, or that it was the last day of the Festival of Lights, Henderson was delighted at his discovery. Dust was delighted at his delight, and she gave him a personal tour of many of the exhibits.

Peter Henderson (left) was delighted to discover that he had found the Festival of Lights on Epiphany. Museum curator Barb Dust (right) pointed out some of the highlights.

Packing it all up

The Historical Society’s observance of Epiphany ended at 1:00pm today, and volunteers will spend the next few weeks packing up the Christmas displays. Dust says it takes all of January to disassemble the trees, put away all the ornaments, and fit the bins and boxes back into the storage room. She credits “Tony’s genius,” referring to fellow Historical Society member Tony Delaurentis, with the ability to fit a growing number of exhibits into the same amount of storage space each year.

All the trees, ornaments, and other display elements have to fit into the Lansing Historical Society’s storage area—until November, when the 2018 Festival of Lights will educate and celebrate the diversity of cultural traditions in Lansing.


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


    • It was a real pleasure to meet your son! He is a fine young man, and I enjoyed talking with him.

  1. It was my pleasure to meet Peter. His inquisitive mind and engaging conversation will serve him well in life. Thanks, Melanie, for this story. I hope next year more people will come to celebrate Epiphany!

    • Thanks for all you do, Barb. I’m glad you and Peter connected. I think you could be an important person in his life. 🙂

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