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Three Kings Day

Edwin Rodarte, Senior Librarian, Emerging Technologies & Collections,
three wise men on a float
Photograph caption dated November 26, 1959 reads, "Story of 'The Three Wise Men Following the Star' will be depicted in float entered in Van Nuys Church of the Nazarene, 6514 Sylmar Ave." Valley Times Collection

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:

Three Kings Day Book List

Tradiciones Mexicanas
Verti, Sebastian.

Revelation of The Magi: The Lost Tale of The Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem

Hurray for Three Kings' Day!
Carlson, Lori M.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings
DePaola, Tomie, 1934-

¡Vivan los Reyes Magos!
Carlson, Lori M.

Three Kings Day: A Celebration at Christmastime
Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane.

Celebra la Navidad y el Dia de los Reyes Magos con Pablo y Carlitos
Ada, Alma Flor

Los 3 Reyes Magos The Three Wise Men

Fiestas: A Year of Latin American Songs of Celebration
Orozco, José-Luis.

The Three Kings: The Journey of The Magi
Elschner, Geraldine,