Saturday, January 6, 2007

Three Kings – Driekoningen

Federico Fiori Barroci (b.1526-d.1612, Urbino, Italy)
"The Adoration of the Magi"1561-63
Black chalk, pen and brush on blue paper
Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Today is the feast of the Three Kings, or Epiphany.
In Holland and the Flemmish parts of Belgium, it is known as Driekoningen. In France (and other French heritage parts of the world) it is known as "Fête des Rois". Spanish countries/cultures call this day "Los Reyes Magos" and in English cultures (US, Canada, UK, etc.), it is known as "Twelfth Night/Epiphany". This day, January 6th, marks the end of the Christmas season in the Christian calendar and is believed to be the day the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to give their gifts to the baby Jesus. Many Christian cultures, throughout the world, still reserve this day as the day for giving gifts to each other.

Our human "mom", who is of half Armenian heritage, remembers always getting small gifts as a child on this day that her Armenian mother referred to as “Little Christmas”. The earliest accounts of the introduction of Christianity into Armenia date from the 1st century. The Armenian Apostolic Church ( also known as the Armenian Orthodox Church or The Gregorian Church) has been in existence since the days of the apostles and lays a rightful claim as the oldest Christian church. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301, when St. Gregory the Illuminator converted Tiridates III (the King of Armenia) to Christianity.

We are sure other Christian cultures (i.e. Italy, Portugal, etc.) around the world also celebrate this day.... but we’re cats and we don’t know everything! *smile*

Ok, back to the Netherlands and Driekoningen:
In earlier times, when the Netherlands was mostly a Catholic nation (before the Protestant Reformation), this day was marked by a childrens’ celebration similar to the feast of St. Maarten and very similar to Halloween. On the eve of Driekoningen ( that would be Jan. 5th), children dressed in costume (usually as one of the Three Kings) carrying lanterns often in the shape of the Christmas star, would visit neighborhood houses in hopes of receiving sweet treats.

There is also the tradition of the “3 King’s Cake” that is eaten on January 6th. The cake can be a dark fruitcake (as in the UK), or a buttery almond cake with almond paste filling (as in France). The cake also has a bean, almond or more tradtionally, a small trinket ( such as a tiny baby figure) hidden/baked inside the cake. The person who gets the slice with the “surprise inside” are declared the King (or Queen) of the day! Some traditions also hold that the recipient of the 'surprise' will have good fortune in the new year.

Jacob Jordeans (b.1593-d.1678 Antwerp, Belgium)
"The Bean King", c. 1655
Oil on Canvas - Collection of Kunsthistorisches Museum. Vienna, Austria
(Note: Jordeans painted several versions of "The Bean King" over a span of some 20 years, each one differing in expanse of compostion. They can be found in the collections of The Hermitage (St. Pertersburg, Russia) , Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts (Brussels, Belgium), Staatliche Museen (Kassel, Germany))

Today, “mom” is going to make the French almond cake, "Galette des Rois" (Cake of Kings), ... hmmm, we wonder if we’ll get a taste? Sacha has a particular fondness for almond paste... although she can’t have too much, says “mom”!! Sacha has very strange tastes for a cat. We'll let you know if the cake is really tasty, or not, and who got to be King or Queen for the day! Finn is hoping he finds the almond or bean!!

Driekoningen celebrations do still take place today in the Netherlands, but are mostly held in the southern, and predominantly Catholic, provinces/towns/villages - it is very rare to find these celebrations anymore in the Utrecht province.

However, if you live in (or are visiting) the Netherlands, and are interested in the Christian history of the Netherlands, you might like to visit the Museum Catherijneconvent in Utrecht (Catherine Convent Museum) . The adress is: Lange Nieuwstraat 38, 3512 PH, Utrecht

Housed in a beautiful 16th century building in the center of the city of Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, named after St. Catharine of Alexandria, was originally a Catholic monastary for members of the Order of the Knights of St. John. The monastary's former infirmary eventually became Utrecht's first teaching hospital. Over the centuries, the convent has been used for a wide variety of purposes, such as: housing for the military, student fencing and acrobatics clubs, a school gymnasium and has housed a number of museums' collections. After a complete refurbishment, the current Museum Catharijneconvent was officially opened on June 9, 1979, by the former Queen (Koningin) of the Netherlands, Koningin Juliana (now deceased, she was the mother of the current Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands).

The museum has recently undergone another refurbishment to update the collection and restoration of the museum’s many treasures, as well as extensive restoration to the building.

Museum Catharijneconvent - Utrecht, Netherlands

About the permanent collection (english translation from the museum's website, with corrections by our 'mom' of the english used *eye roll* ) : “The permanent collection of the Museum Catharijneconvent comprises unique historical and art-historical exhibits ranging from the early medieval period to the 21st century. The permanent collection offers an insight into the Christian art and cultural history of the Netherlands and its influence on Dutch society. It includes richly illuminated manuscripts, jewelled book bindings, richly decorated images, unique paintings, altar pieces, ecclesiastical vestments and artifacts of gold and silver. Dutch art from the Golden Age (16th and 17th centuries) is represented by Jan van Scorel, Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Pieter Saenredam. Of more recent vintage are works by Jan Toorop, Shinkichi Tajiri and Frans Franciscus. The Museum Catherijneconvent collection contains both Protestant and Catholic artifacts, making it unique in the world.”

Doei! (bye!)
Finn & Sacha



Paris Parfait said...

Love your post! Lots of fascinating facts and beautiful art. Are you coming to Paris soon?

Finn & Sas said...

Thanks Tara.

Oui! counting down the days until I'm back in Paris!!! less than 2 weeks. I'll email you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Finn & Sas - I came searching for more of your Mom's delightful sketches and stayed to enjoy the wonderful food and culture. You are two lucky cats!

Finn & Sas said...

Thanks Robyn.
and a "meow hi" to Snowy & Dermott from us. ;-)

Finn, Sas & Judy

Monique said...

I just found out about your blog and love it. I am half-American/half-Dutch and used to live in Holland as a teenager. I remember "driekoningen" which I participated in once when I stayed with family in Brabant. I thought it was weird when comparing it to American Halloween. I am looking forward to reading more about Holland and Utrecht especially as that was the town where I used to live over 18 years ago now. I also have a cat! Maybe our kitties can correspond?

Finn & Sas said...

Hi Monique!
I (and the katten) hope I'm doing Holland & Utrecht justice with our stories!! :o) Because we love it here - Echt waar!

About Halloween being somewhat similar to Halloween:
I wasn't thinking about how "modern" Halloween is celebrated in the US, but more about the similarities of the dressing in costumes and going out at night to get sweets, having fun, carrying lanterns, etc. Originally, ages and ages ago, Halloween was also a religious festival of sorts... it got a bit skewed when the Irish tradition travelled to the US hundreds of years ago. Halloween is still "All Hallows' Eve" (aka All Saints' Eve), with Nov. 1st being "All Saints' Day" and Nov. 2nd is "All Souls' Day" in the Western Christian calendar. I know it's a stretch(hee hee)to compare the way "modern" American Halloween is celebrated, but all 3 events (St.Maartens, Halloween, & Driekoningen)involve something religious in nature with children having a good time dressing up as something or someone and getting "treats". That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it! :o)

Unfortunately, living where I do in Utrecht, I've never really seen or participated in a Driekoningenfeest or parade, etc. I've only seen pictures of the events in Brabant & Limburg. I think Finn ( the black cat) would like to be one of the 3 Kings though, as he was messing up the 'kerststal' under our tree all the time this year! hee hee

And Finn & Sacha say "Hoi! Miauw" to your cat!!!

We're not everyday bloggers ( because the cats still can't spell correctly, in any language) but we hope you come back and visit again!

Judy, Finn & Sacha


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