Just When You Thought the Party Was Over

In my family, Christmas ended when December 26th arrived. We always sang about the twelve days of Christmas, but we didn’t know that the song held a wealth of uncharted tradition. In Portugal, Christmas Day was only the beginning of celebration. It ended on January 6th, when we celebrated King Day to remember the Wise Men who traveled long and far to see the Christ child. In American liturgical churches, we call it Epiphany.

The King Cake – Bolo Rei – is ubiquitous all during the holiday season. Bolo Rei attended every party and every get together during December and into January. It is a beautiful and delicious cake made from a rich yeast dough laced with spirits. The cake had dried fruits, candied fruits and nuts in the batter.

The cake had two hidden secrets inside that were wrapped in parchment paper: a coin, and a fava bean. There are different customs around the country, but what I was told was that the person who had the coin (or toy) in his slice would have good fortune for the next year. The person who got the fava would have to bring the Bolo Rei next time. The cake was always good fresh and even better toasted and buttered the day after.

On January first, I was done with Christmas and ready to take the tree down and get back to whatever would be closest to normal. Then Harry asked me, “Why are you taking the tree down already? My mom always left the tree up until after my birthday on the seventh. And she always made me a Red Velvet Cake.” Birthday? Ooops!!

bolo rei
Bolo Rei

16 thoughts on “Just When You Thought the Party Was Over

  1. Haha! Loved the ending lines.

    How fascinating! The professor would probably really enjoy the cake. It sounds very tasty. And what a neat way to get someone to bring the cake next year. I think the professor could use this style of attack in the future somehow…

    Did you ever get any of things hidden in the cake?


    1. It was a true story. I completely forgot Harry’s birthday with everything that was going on. The red velvet cake did not materialize. I was still trying to figure out the measurements in metric and the flour in Portugal was lighter than anything I had used in the states. I cooked his favorite meal for him, and I don’t remember what we did, if anything, for a cake that year. It’s dadblamery having a birthday so close to a holiday.


      1. It was mostly me not forgiving myself, not Harry. Now, if you try to take his cake away from him when he already has it in front of him, then it’s revenge all of the way.


  2. Caleb’s birthday is the same as Harry’s…except it’s the other side of Christmas, December 13th. Before Caleb ever entered our lives I had started a tradition with Charlotte using the 12 days of Christmas. Only I started 12 days BEFORE. On my dresser in our bedroom I put a little 1 foot Christmas tree, and under it I put 12 small wrapped gifts. Most would be little dollar gifts, mostly bears in one form or another.. A couple would be nicer, and one would be really nice. Starting on December 13th, Charlotte would pick one gift a night,at bed time and open it.

    When Caleb came along, and his birthday was on the 13th of December, it just made sense to include our grandson. He agreed, wholeheartedly, since it meant a cavalcade of presents between the 13th and the 25th. So the number of gifts under the little tree on the dresser increased to 24, 12 with green bows for Charlotte, 12 with red bows for Caleb. The picking of the present now is accompanied by singing the successive verses of the 12 days of Christmas for that day.

    And then, Caleb’s daddy came home, and the number of presents for The 12 Days of Christmas, increased to 36. !2 with blue bows for daddy.

    I need a bigger dresser.


    1. That sounds like a fun way to approach Christmas. One of the things that I would do if I were beginning again would be to give gifts on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas 25th.


  3. December 6th….December 6th….now why does that date ring a bell?
    Something relevant, I’m sure. Old well, it will come to me.


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