What Is Three Kings Day?

Three Kings Day or the Feast of Epiphany is the final celebration with which the 12 days of Christmas end on January 6. It is believed that on this day, the three wise men — Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar — presented baby Jesus with symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrhh. Many Christians across Europe, mainly in Spain, and in Latin America celebrate this holiday.

The Biblical tale behind this day

The holiday celebrates the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the Magi or the three kings. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the men traveled for 12 days by following a star in the desert that led them to baby Jesus in a manger. The three kings represented Europe, Arabia, and Africa, and their coming together was symbolic of unity. The gold offered by one is an acknowledgment of Jesus’s royal standing. Frankincense points to the divine nature of the baby’s existence as the “Son of God.” And myrrh, which was used to embalm corpses, was a symbol of Jesus’ mortality and that later he would die to cleanse mankind of its sins.

The traditions behind Three Kings Day

The 12th day of Christmas has its own unique traditions, and different parts of the world celebrate it in different ways. On the streets of Spain, where the holiday is known as Día de Los Reyes, it is common to find parades and performances on this day. For some, this is the day the Christmas tree is taken down and burnt in a big bonfire. Once the tree is taken down the children enjoy plundering it of its sugar plums, chocolate ornaments, and cookies. In European homes, it is a tradition for children to line up their shoes outside the house so that the three kings know where to leave gifts. For those who celebrate Three Kings Day, the season of gift giving extends all the way up to the 12th day of Christmas. In fact, sometimes the three kings bring more gifts than Santa.

In South America, this day is celebrated with a king cake for dessert called the “Rosca de Reyes.” The cake has a plastic figurine of Jesus hidden inside, and whichever guest finds the figurine in their portion of the cake must make tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles, which takes place on February 2. In the U.S., this tradition is followed by many families in New Orleans.

Three Kings Day – January 6, 2019

Sun Jan 6

You know when someone says they had an “epiphany”? The Epiphany is Three Kings Day! Celebrated most in Spain and Latin America, but also across Europe, “El Dia de los Reyes”, as it’s called in Spanish, marks the adoration of baby Jesus by the three kings, otherwise known as the three wise men, or Magi. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar travelled by horse, camel, and elephant, in order to present the baby Jesus with symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrhh.

Three Kings Day Activities

  1. Get a “Rosca de Reyes”

    The King Cake tradition is alive in New Orleans as well as across South America, and recipes to make one are found fairly easily online. Imagine a deliciously sweet cake with cinnamon and nice sweet sauce, with a variety of fillings depending on how decadent you’re feeling.

  2. Read the Bible

    If you’re going to celebrate a Christian festival, why not read the gospel it’s all based on! Twelfth night (Epiphany) marks the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. The word “Epiphany” also means “manifestation” and celebrates the revelation of God in human form as Jesus Christ. Start at Matthew 2:11, and see what happens.

  3. Jump in some freezing cold water

    In Prague, there’s a traditional Three Kings swim in the Vltava River. People wear speedos, some of them wear crowns, and then they jump from a barge into the water. Afterwards they drink mulled wine and eat delicious, warming Czech snacks.

Why We Love Three Kings Day

  1. A reason for more gifts

    Christmas isn’t the end of presents! In Europe, children look forward to receiving more gifts on Three Kings Day, lining their shoes up outside their doors so the Three Kings will know to leave their gifts inside.

  2. An excuse for more eating

    Three Kings Day is celebrated in South America with a delicious dinner crowned with a “Rosca de Reyes” or King Cake for dessert. The “Rosca de Reyes” is a round cake with a plastic Jesus figurine hidden inside, and the person at the party who finds the baby Jesus has to make tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles, which comes on February 2.

  3. It has fun traditions

    Many families leave a box of grass or hay and some water for the Three Kings’ camels (and horses and elephants) to eat. The camels usually leave a trail of hay behind that children can follow to find their gifts.

Three Kings Day dates
2019January 6Sunday
2020January 6Monday
2021January 6Wednesday
2022January 6Thursday
2023January 6Friday