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.