For many Christians, the holiday season officially ends on January 6, which is the 12th day of Christmas known as the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings' Day. The holiday celebrates the biblical tale in which the Three Kings, or Three Wise Men, visit baby Jesus after his birth.
In the Gospel of Mathew, the three Kings find baby Jesus by following the path of a star across the desert for twelve days. According to the Gospel, the three Kings named Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar traveled to Bethlehem to bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
The gifts the Three Kings gave Jesus were meant to be symbolic. Gold was associated with the belief that Jesus was the King of Jews. Frankincense, which is often burned in churches today, was meant to represent the divine nature of Jesus and the fact that people would come to worship him as the Son of God. And myrrh, a perfume sometimes used to embalm dead bodies, represented the fact that Jesus would eventually suffer and die. Each gift represented a distinct part of the baby's destiny.
In Brazil, it is a custom to eat pomegranate because the huge amount of seeds and juice in the fruit represents wealth. The tradition originates from Portugal, where the first three seeds sucked were traditionally placed in the drawer where money was kept, the second batch of three went into the bread drawer and the third was thrown into the fire. Why all is the seed stashing? To keep money, food and warmth coming all year of course. The pomegranate tradition is still practiced in Brazil, though most people wrap three seeds in foil and keep them in their wallets.
For many years in Spain, Mexico and Colombia, Christmas presents were traditionally given on January 6th, rather than in December, to mark the day that Kings gave their presents to Jesus. In Spain, Puerto Rico and Mexico, on the night of Jan 5th, children traditionally leave shoes on their window or porch filled with hay or grass to “feed the camels” that the Kings used for their journey, though this ritual is practiced less and less.
In Puerto Rico things get more serious with huge parades featuring men dressed as the Three Kings, giving out candy and presents to kids and playing instruments in the streets. Another prevalent tradition in Hispanic cultures is the Rosca de Reyes (or roscón in Spain), which is a sweet bread resembling a wreath, decorated with dried fruit. In some countries, like Mexico, families hide a figurine of baby Jesus in the bread. Whoever finds it in their slice is blessed and takes on the responsibility of throwing a party for the others on February 2nd, known as Dia de la Candelaria (sounds like a mixed blessing to the US audience).
How about you? Do you celebrate Three King’s Day? Have you heard of it?