To share some good wishes and education on the holidays listed in our annual District Calendar, the content below shares some customs from around the world regarding Three Kings Day.
Overview: Celebrating Three Kings Day
Each January 6th, many families around the world celebrate this religious holiday. Members of many Western Christian churches celebrate it as Three Kings Day, and members of many Eastern Christian churches celebrate in memory of Jesus's Baptism. Three Kings Day— Día de los Tres Reyes Magos or Día de Reyes for short—also known as the Feast of the Epiphany and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Three Kings Day has deep religious and cultural significance to the Latinx community.
A Holiday with Rich History
According to the biblical story, the Three Kings (also called wise men or magi), Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, followed the Star of Bethlehem to find the birthplace of the Christ Child. They presented the baby Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh gifts 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.
- 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.
When: The Date of Epiphany
Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on January 6th.
Why: Significance of Epiphany
This is when Christians remember the Wise Men (also sometimes called the Three Kings) who visited Jesus.
Epiphany means 'revelation,' and both the visit of the Wise Men and his Baptism are essential times when Jesus was 'revealed' to be very important.
Who Observes Epiphany
Catholics and Orthodox Christians mainly celebrate Epiphany.
In Orthodox churches, Epiphany is known as 'The Feast of the Holy Theophany,' which is as important as Christmas. During the services to celebrate Epiphany, on the eve of the feast, and the feast day, water is blessed (some churches only bless water at one service). This is to remember Jesus's Baptism.
The blessed water is used in church services during the rest of the year. People are often baptized on the Feast of the Holy Theophany. After the service, a priest also uses the water to bless the houses of people in the church. It can sometimes take days or weeks for the priest to visit all the houses and bless them.
Traditions of Three Kings Day
Three Kings Day brings beloved traditions that kids—and their parents—look forward to year after year. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, the three wise men, as the gift-givers, are more popular than Santa Claus. Kids love to get their pictures taken with them.
Children put wish lists inside old shoes and leave them out for the wise men to fill with gifts. Some children send their letters to the three kings by tying them to a balloon and releasing them into the air. Another common tradition is leaving out grass and water for their camels.
Because the eve of Three Kings Day is also known as the Twelfth Day of Christmas, Latinx families often leave their Christmas trees until January 6th.
Celebrations Around the World
Let's take a tour around the world to explore how different cultures celebrate Epiphany:
Spain: The Festival of the Three Magic Kings
In Spain, Epiphany is an important festival, where it's also known as 'The festival of the three Magic Kings' - 'Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Magos,' and is when Spanish and some other Catholic children receive their presents - as the Three Kings deliver them!
In Spain, on Epiphany morning, you might go to the local bakers and buy a special cake/pastry called a 'Roscón de Reyes' (meaning a ring-shaped roll). They are typically filled with cream or chocolate and are decorated with a paper crown.
There is usually a king figure (if you find that you can wear the crown) and a dried bean (if you're meant to pay for the cake!).
France: Galette des Rois
You might eat a 'Galette des Rois,' a flat almond cake in France. It has a toy crown cooked inside it and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.
Mexico: El Dia de los Reyes
In Mexico, Epiphany is known as 'El Dia de los Reyes' (the day of The Three Kings). It's traditional to eat a special cake called 'Rosca de Reyes' (Three Kings Cake). A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the 'Godparent' of Jesus for that year.
Portugal: The Janeiras
In Portugal, people participate in Epiphany carol singing, known as the 'Janeiras' (January songs). On the Island of Madeira, they're known as the 'Cantar os Reis' (singing the kings).
In Italy, some children also get their presents on Epiphany. But they believe that an old lady called 'Befana' brings them. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill.
Austria and Germany: Chalk Marks
In Austria, at Epiphany, some people write a unique sign in chalk over their front door. It's a reminder of the Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus. It's made from the year split in two with initials of the names that are sometimes given to 'the three wise men', Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, in the middle. So 2021 would be 20CMB21. The sign is meant to protect the house for the coming year. Some parts of Germany also have the tradition of marking over doors.
Belgium and Poland: Singing and Treats
At Epiphany in Belgium, children dress up as the three wise men and sing songs from door to door, and people give them money or sweets, like Trick or Treating on Halloween. Children in Poland also go out singing on Epiphany.
Ireland: Women's Christmas
Epiphany is sometimes called 'Nollaig na mBean' or Women's Christmas in Ireland. Traditionally, the women get the day off, and men do the housework and cooking! It is becoming more popular, and many Irish women get together on the Sunday nearest to Epiphany and have tea and cakes!
Ethiopia: Timkat Celebration
In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which celebrates Christmas on January 7th), twelve days after Christmas, on January 19th, the three-day celebration of Ethiopians Timkat starts. This celebrates Jesus's Baptism.
USA: King's Day in New Orleans
In New Orleans, Louisiana, in the USA, on Epiphany/King's Day, the Christmas Tree is either taken down, or the ornaments are replaced with Purple, Gold, and Green ones, and it's then called a 'Mardi Gras Tree.' People also like to eat 'King Cake' (a cinnamon pastry with sugar on the top and sometimes with cream cheese or jelly/jam). The King Cake will have a baby plastic doll inside (representing Jesus); whoever gets the piece with the baby must supply the next King Cake! Some people have a "King Cake Party" every Friday before Lent (the time before Easter).
Epiphany Eve, also known as Twelfth Night, marks the end of the traditional Christmas celebrations. It is when you were meant to take Christmas decorations down - although some people leave them until Candlemas.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q1: Why is Three Kings Day celebrated 12 days after Christmas?
A1: Three Kings Day is celebrated 12 days after Christmas to commemorate the biblical story of the Three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on January 6th, precisely twelve days after Christmas.
Q2: What is the significance of the gifts the Three Kings gave?
A2: The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented by the Three Kings were symbolic. Gold represented the belief that Jesus would be king of the Jews, frankincense symbolized his divine nature, and myrrh represented the suffering Jesus would eventually endure in his lifetime.
Q3: How is Epiphany celebrated in different cultures around the world?
A3: Epiphany is celebrated in various ways around the world. In Spain, children receive presents from the Three Kings. In Mexico, a special cake called 'Rosca de Reyes' is enjoyed, with a hidden figure of Baby Jesus. In Italy, an old lady called 'Befana' brings presents. These are just a few examples, as many countries have unique traditions for celebrating Epiphany.