Another special date to celebrate: January 6th, Three Wise Men, the Epiphany. After Christmas and New Year’s Day, in Mexico, Spain and other Latin American countries, it’s a tradition to celebrate El Dia de los Reyes Magos, the Epiphany, or the day of the Three Wise Men (called magicians, but were actually astronomers).
Families commemorate the Three Wise Men who followed the star in the evening sky, and guidance of an Angel to Bethlehem, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant baby Jesus. This special holiday marks the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas. Some families traditionally exchange gifts on this date and not on Christmas day.
On the night of January 5th, the children before going to bed place their shoe under the Christmas Tree or by the Nativity scene. A few days before, they write wish letters to the Wise Men: Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar. The children are mostly in excitement that night, and even though they are reluctant to go to sleep, they know as soon as they wake up they will discover their presents, each child usually finds three gifts as each Magi will bring a present.
Another lovely custom in the evening, is the preparation of the ”Merienda de Reyes”, an evening meal where friends and families get together and share the celebration. The tradition is to have hot chocolate, tamales, and Rosca de Reyes (King’s cake) that is round shaped, to signify a king’s crown, and is sweet bread decorated with candied fruit. Inside the cake a small plastic figurine is placed representing the baby Jesus. The baby Jesus figure is hidden inside the Rosca to symbolize a secure place where the infant could be born, a place where King Herod would not find him.
In Spain, there are festive lights throughout the streets, Nativity scenes set up in various locations, and the Spaniards celebrate the arrival of the Kings with a joyful parade called the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Parade). The kings ride upon horses or elaborate floats, and is also traditionally the big opportunity for children to ask the Kings for gifts.
The Christmas season in many Latin American countries and in some parts of the United States, is extended up to February 2nd, the Candelaria day. Whoever finds the baby figurine when slicing the Rosca de Reyes, is to host a party on Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas Day), celebrated on February 2nd.
My family and I would usually have several Roscas de Reyes, would prepare hot chocolate and celebrate with the kids. Each adult or child who found the baby figurine would plan for and make one big party together. . .
As you can see, it’s a truly multicultural event that is celebrated with much love and joy!