On January 6th, twelve days after Christmas, Epiphany is celebrated, also known as Three Kings Day. This tradition has its roots in the Christian religion and celebrates the baptism of Jesus as well as the arrival of the three Magi. According to Christian tradition, the Magi Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa followed a star towards Bethlehem. After twelve days of traveling, they arrive at the stable of baby Jesus’s birth. With them, they bring three gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. The gold was representative of baby Jesus as king, the incense celebrated his divinity, and the myrrh his mortality.
This tradition is celebrated by Christians around the world but it is more evident in certain Spanish-speaking countries since it is on this date that gifts are traditionally exchanged and not on Christmas. The night before January 6th, thousands of children clean their shoes and leave them ready with a list for the Magi. Sometimes, they also leave food for the Magi and straw and water for the camels. The next day, shoes are filled with toys, gifts or treats.
Part of the tradition includes a family celebration and traditional dishes such as a Roscón or Rosca de Reyes, which is a bread / cake in the shape of a circle, representative of the crown of a king. This tradition began in Spain and was exported to other countries around the sixteenth century. There are certain differences in their tradition as Spain introduces a dry bean into the bread as a surprise to the one who finds it who will then have to pay for the Roscón. In Mexico, a small plastic figure representing baby Jesus is introduced in the bread and the person who finds it gains the title of godfather and will have to host a party on Candlemas, on February 2.
Some of the countries that celebrate this tradition include Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and others.
Some traditions include:
Spain - On January 5, the "cavalcade of the kings" is celebrated, which is a parade through the streets of the cities of Spain full of horses, floats, dancers, and artistic companies. The bakeries are packed with roscones to celebrate with the family on January 6.
Mexico - Families gather to eat the Rosca de Reyes in anticipation of a promised fiesta on February 2, the day of the Candelaria which will be full of tamales and atole. The rosca/bread changes its circle shape to an oval shape in order to accommodate more guests to the feast.
Argentina - Children place empty boxes instead of shoes to receive their gifts.
Puerto Rico - Children pick up grass and put it in boxes or shoes for the camels of the Magi.
The following book titles are about this tradition: