According to Christian tradition, the Magi Kings gave gifts to the baby Jesus, and, in Portugal, this date is also celebrated.
Kings Day is celebrated on 6 January and the tradition, which dates back to the 8th century, is celebrated, where Catholics venerate the Magi Kings Melchior, Gaspar, and Baltazar. According to biblical texts and stories passed down from generation to generation, the three Kings offered Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each of the gifts has a meaning, and some of these gifts have remained present in the Catholic tradition, such as the gold in the church's buildings and artefacts and incense, used in various celebrations.
Normally, on the 6 January, people will sing the “janeiras”, which are popular Christmas-themed songs, usually linked to the Christian tradition. “Janeiras” are sung from door-to-door and as a form of thanks, the inhabitants of the house let the singers in and offer wine, and sweets, among other delicacies.
It is on Epiphany, known in Portugal as Dia de Reis, that the Portuguese cease their Christmas celebrations. It is on that day that the Christmas lights in the streets are turned off, as well as the Christmas trees are dismantled, as people look forward to entering the New Year with all the luck in the world.
Bolo Rei is probably the Christmas delicacy most consumed by the Portuguese during the Christmas season.
Despite being a very Portuguese delicacy, its history goes back to the Roman festivities. The Catholic Church later took advantage of the tradition and converted it to Christianity, linking it with Christmas.
Portugal, Bolo Rei became popular in the 19th century, based on a French recipe
for a crown-shaped cake. However, with the end of the monarchy, the
nomenclature of the cake was at risk, as the republicans wanted to eliminate
everything that could be related to the monarchy. For a while, pastry shops
adopted other names for the cake, such as Bolo Nacional, Bolo de Natal, or even
Ex-Bolo-Rei. Even so, republican governors were unhappy with the changes and
created names such as Bolo Presidente and Bolo Arriaga, in honour of the first
president of the Portuguese republic.
Nomenclatures aside, Bolo Rei kept its original name, however, at the end of the 20th century some changes were made. For a long time, Bolo Rei brought a small toast and a broad bean. The toast would bring joy to whoever received it, and the broad bean would dictate who would have to buy the Bolo Rei the following year. However, in 1999, Portuguese law dictated that it would not be allowed to place gifts in Bolo Rei, as it could constitute a health hazard, due to the possibility of asphyxiation, or gastric diseases.
The Bolo Rei is nothing more than a cake, made with light dough, and decorated with candied fruit and powdered sugar. The cake even has a long shelf life and if it starts to get dry, the Portuguese usually cut some slices and toast them in the oven, to eat with butter, at any time of the day.
There is also a variant of Bolo Rainha, with the same recipe, but decorated with dried fruits.
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