Discover what the Three Kings Day celebration is about
The Christmas season doesn't end until after Three Kings Day has been celebrated.
Didn’t get your fill of celebrations throughout December? You probably thought after the New year that the holidays were over. Technically, no — not until January 6, when Christians all over the world celebrated Epiphany. In some places, the day is known as “Three Kings Day” after the wise men, or Magi, who, the Bible says, brought the infant gifts and proclaimed him the Son of God.
In other places, the day is known for giving gifts and keep continue the holidays. What better way to kick off a new year than treating yourself to a holiday? There might not be any Three Wise Men coming to bring you presents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself the ultimate gift and spend a few days in holiday right at the start of the year.
For centuries, churches around the world have celebrated January 6 as Epiphany or Three Kings Day, but different countries and traditions attribute the day to different elements of Jesus Christ’s life. Some celebrate the day of his baptism, and others celebrate his mother, the Virgin Mary on this date, but what does Three Kings Day celebrate?
As the name suggests, it’s a celebration of the three Wise Men, the Magi who brought gifts to the Christ child. According to the biblical story, the Three Kings, named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, followed the Star of Bethlehem to find the birthplace of the Christ Child. They presented the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh on January 6th, precisely twelve days after Christmas. These gifts were symbolic of the baby’s destiny: gold represented the belief Jesus would be king of the Jews, frankincense symbolized his divine nature and myrrh represented the suffering Jesus would eventually endure in his lifetime.
Because of the cultural importance of this story, nativity scenes are often a part of Latinx households as a way to celebrate the arrival of the three kings.Stemming from Spanish colonization and Catholic tradition, the Three Kings Day holiday is a continuation of the Christmas celebration with a focus on this part of the nativity story, and with its own unique Three Kings Day traditions.
The holiday is primarily celebrated in Spain and Latin America, but Latino communities have shared the tradition all over the world. The holiday is observed with parades and parties as people celebrate the three kings arriving to baby Jesus. Here’s how you can celebrate the holiday this year.
The three kings rode to Bethlehem on camels, so the night before the holiday, children set out grass or other snacks for them. If you’re familiar with the tradition of leaving cookies for Santa, this custom is very similar—but instead of leaving cookies and reindeer feed, families prepare snacks for the camels.
For many families, Three Kings Day is as big of a celebration as Christmas Day. It’s customary to gather with friends and family to celebrate, often by opening gifts, playing music, and sharing a large meal together.
Typically, children give and receive gifts on Three Kings Day. In some parts of the world (primarily in Spain), children also leave their shoes by the door so the three kings will come in the night and fill their shoes with small gifts—just like on Saint Nicholas Day!
Latin traditions around the globe celebrate the Epiphany with Rosca de Reyes (which translates to “the kings’ring”), a cake baked into a circular shape. Within the cake is a tiny figurine of the Christ-child, and whoever finds the piece with the figurine inside it gets something of a mixed blessing.
On one hand the baby is meant to symbolize luck and prosperity for the coming year, and you’ll be considered an honored guest at dinner. On the downside, you are also responsible for not only buying next years cake but making tamales for the Day of the Candles on February 2. In Mexico especially, it’s customary to make “rosca del rey. It’s typically made into huge long loaves at bakeries, and people come to stand in long lines to grab a slice.
As a way to get you to throw your dang Christmas tree out, many cultures burn their Christmas trees in a large bonfire to celebrate the festivities — which is probably the best-smelling bonfire of all time. Loaded with foil-wrapped cookies and chocolates, in some cases, children are allowed to remove the gifts from the tree once it falls.