Three Kings Day – January 6, 2020

Mon Jan 6

What is Three Kings Day?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6, we celebrate 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 wise men.

History of Three Kings Day

In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, Santa Clause isn’t as popular as he is in the United States. Rather, it is the three wise men who are the bearers of gifts and leave presents in or near the shoes of small children. The holiday is also known by the name Epiphany and dates back to the 4th century. A grand feast would be held on this day to honor the occasion of Jesus’ baptism and to pay homage to the three wise men.
 
Many believe mysterious events preceded Jesus’ birth with perhaps the most notable being the appearance of the star in Bethlehem. This new star appeared in the evening sky just prior to the arrival of Jesus. Three wise men, or Magi as they were known, whose names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, traveled a far distance to pay homage to Christ. They brought with them fine gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
 
Three Kings Day, or El Dia de Reyes, remains an important holiday for Latin America. In addition to gift-giving, there is also a culinary treat that is specific to the holiday. Known as Rosca de Reyes (King’s Cake), this holiday dessert is a symbolic pastry. Shaped in a circle to signify a king’s crown, this sweet bread holds a special surprise. Inside is a small plastic figurine representing the baby Jesus. Whoever finds this token is obligated to host an upcoming party for the occasion Dia de la Condelaria (Candlemas Day) which occurs each year on February 2. 

Three Kings Day timeline

1969

The twelfth day of Christmas

Revisions of the General Roman Calendar made the Three Kings Day date to some extent variable, assigning the celebration of the day to occur on the Sunday between January 2 and 8, though it is still more widely celebrated on January 6, 12 days after Christmas. 

385 AD

Epiphany

The pilgrim Egeria described a celebration in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which she called "Epiphany" that commemorated the Nativity. 

December 25, 380 AD

Theophany 

St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to the day as "the Theophany", saying that the day commemorates the holy nativity of Christ.

200 AD

From Rome to Egypt

Though Three Kings Day originated in the Greek speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire, Clement of Alexandria wrote that followers of Basilides in Egypt also celebrated the day of Jesus' baptism. 

Three King's Day Traditions

Gifts
On January 5, the Three Kings are added to nativity decorations and children leave their shoes out over night waiting for a visit from the wise men. When they wake up in the morning, they will find that the Kings have left them gifts inside and near their shoes.
 
Rosca de Reyes
King’s cake, Rosca de Reyes, is the highlight of the Three Kings Day celebrations. The cake is shaped into an open circle, or wreath, and studded with candied fruit and nuts to represent the jewels in the Magi’s crowns. The tradition of the cake requires that a tiny baby Jesus doll is hidden within the cake. Whoever receives the serving with the Baby Jesus must host February’s Candlemas celebration. 
 
Al fresco feast
In its core, Three Kings Day is in fact a feast day. So it makes perfect since that on this day, families enjoy a big filling meal. In Latin American countries, this feast is enjoyed al fresco, outdoors. Traditional dishes include black beans and rice with some families switching out the beans for peas or corn, soups and salads that feature yucca, nopales, and plantains, and a slow cooked meat sautéed with onions, garlic, and herbs. 

Three King's Day Statistics

60,000 Rosca de Reyes
California’s Northgate Gonzalez Market sells about 60,000 Rosca de Reyes each year. They start selling the original, small rosca just before Thanksgiving. About a week before Christmas, they sell the cakes in four sizes and two varieties: original and filled. One year, the fillings consisted of guava and cheese or pineapple and cajeta. 
 
2,065.43 meters World Record
In 2019, chefs from La Universidad Vizcaya de las Americas were awarded the Guinness record for the longest Rosca de Reyes bread in the world. Measuring at 2,065.43 meters, the lengthy traditional bread beat the previous world holder for the longest loaf, which was Switzerland. Carlos Tapia of Guinness World Records for Latin America verified the length of the bread and its new world record, noting that the previous record held by Switzerland measured in at 973.24 meters. The ring also included more than 7,000 dolls inside of the pastry. 
 
200,000 people annually
Every year in Mexico on the eve of Three Kings Day, a mile-long Rosca de Reyes cake is made to celebrate the holiday. More than 200,000 people gather annually in Zocalo Square to eat a piece of the King’s cake or take some home to save for later. Starting in 2018, Mexico City’s government emphasized that a portion of the delicacy shall be made without sugar so that people who need to avoid sweets are also able to partake in the tradition. 

Three Kings Day FAQs

Why do we celebrated Three Kings Day?

Three Kings Day is considered the end of Christmas celebrations, representing the day the Three Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus Christ. 
 

What do they eat on Three Kings Day?

A traditional Three Kings Day meal consists of a starter of soup or salad, a main course of picadillo meat with rice and beans (though some families exchange beans for corn or peas), and a King’s cake for dessert. 
 

Is Three Kings Day a religious holiday?

Three Kings Day is a religious Christian and Catholic holiday mostly celebrated in Latin America and Spain. 
 

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 sugary 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
YearDateDay
2020January 6Monday
2021January 6Wednesday
2022January 6Thursday
2023January 6Friday
2024January 6Saturday

Let’s get social

Here are some special hashtags for the day.

#ThreeKingsDay #Epiphany #TheThreeWiseMen