Each January 6th, Latinx families around the world celebrate 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.
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According to the biblical story, the Three Kings (also called wise men or magi), 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.
“As a kid growing up in Colombia, we created this huge manger. We had the three kings figures ‘walk’ slowly and steadily as the days progressed. We always looked forward to the day they actually arrived to see baby Jesus.” —Luis B.
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 letter to the three kings by tying it to a balloon and releasing it 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 will often leave their Christmas trees up until January 6th.
“We ABSOLUTELY could not take down our Christmas tree until that day. Had to explain this tradition to my friends when they asked why our tree was still up.”—Maria V.
A central part of any Three Kings Day celebration is, of course, the mouthwatering food. In Latin American countries, the celebration is enjoyed al fresco, with traditional dishes like plantains, nopales, black beans and rice, and yucca.
But the most important part of the feast is the Rosca de Reyes (“king’s wreath”), a sweet bread baked in the shape of a wreath and decorated with dried and candied fruits. Eating the cake is a treat in itself, but there’s also an element of fun baked right in—one special slice contains a hidden figurine symbolizing the Baby Jesus. (Rosca de Reyes is similar to the Mardi Gras tradition of the King Cake.)
Whoever finds the figurine in their piece of cake must host a feast on February 2nd, el día de la Candelaria (Day of the Candlemas).
Three Kings Day is a truly special celebration for Latinx people everywhere. It’s a meaningful, magical time of year that brings people together to celebrate what’s most important to them: family and faith. Taking time to observe its traditions and customs is an opportunity to reflect on all of the blessings of the past year and the excitement of the one to come.
“The whole point is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He always comes first. I want to pass down this family tradition to my daughter, who is Mexican American. I want her to understand her roots and where she comes from and to keep and create new traditions for the next generations and memorable moments grounded in faith.” —Cindy P.