Three Kings Day - Around the World
In an effort to share some well wishes and education on the holidays listed in our annual District Calendar, the content below shares some customs from around the world as it relates to Three Kings Day.
This content comes primarily from a website called Why Christmas AND Hallmark.com. The information has been slightly repurposed. If something important is missing, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your addition(s).
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), 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.
WHEN: Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on 6th January.
- This is the time when Christians remember the Wise Men (also sometimes called the Three Kings) who visited Jesus.
- Epiphany is also when some Churches remember when Jesus was Baptised, when he was about 30, and started to teach people about God.
- Epiphany means 'revelation' and both the visit of the Wise Men and his Baptism are important times when Jesus was 'revealed' to be very important.
- Epiphany is mainly celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
In Orthodox churches, Epiphany is also known as 'The Feast of the Holy Theophany' and it is as important as Christmas. During the services to celebrate Epiphany, on the eve of the feast and on 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 baptised on the Feast of the Holy Theophany. After the service, the water is also used by a priest to bless the houses of people in the church. It can sometimes take days or even weeks for the priest to visit all the houses and bless them.
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.
AROUND THE WORLD:
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 they are delivered by the Three Kings!
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 normally filled with cream or chocolate and are decorated with a paper crown.
|There is normally a figure of a king (if you find that you can wear the crown) and a dried bean (if you find that you're meant to pay for the cake!).||
A Roscón de Reyes from Spain
In France, you might eat a 'Galette des Rois', a type of flat almond cake. It has a toy crown cooked inside it and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.
There are similar traditions in Mexico where 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.
In Portugual, people take part 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.
In Austria, at Epiphany, some people write a special sign in chalk over their front door. It's a reminder of the Wise Men that 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: 20*C*M*B*21. The sign is meant to protect the house for the coming year. Some parts of Germany also have the tradition of marking over doors.
At Epiphany in Belgium, children dress up as the three wise men and go from door to door to sing songs and people give them money or sweets, kind of like Trick or Treating on Halloween. Children in Poland also go out singing on Epiphany.
In Ireland, Epiphany is also sometimes called 'Nollaig na mBean' or Women's Christmas. Traditionally the women get the day off and men do the housework and cooking! It is becoming more popular and many Irish women now get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany and have tea and cakes!
In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which celebrates Christmas on 7th January), twelve days after Christmas, on 19th January, the three day celebration of Ethiopians Timkat starts. This celebrates Jesus's baptism.
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 filled with cream cheese or jelly/jam). The King Cake will have a little baby plastic doll inside (which represents Jesus); whoever gets the piece with the baby has to supply the next King Cake! Some people have "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 and is the time when you were meant to take Christmas decorations down - although some people leave them up until Candlemas.