Dia de los Reyes, or Three Kings Day, is a Latino and Hispanic holiday that takes place on January 6th, also known as the Epiphany.
The history behind the day honors the Three Wise Men and the biblical story of how they traveled for twelve days to give gifts to baby Jesus. The three Kings, named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar followed a star across the desert to deliver symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
For many, the holiday is known as a “second Christmas” and traditionally it is the day when Hispanic households exchange gifts, concluding the Christmas holiday festivities.
Originally, Christmas was celebrated for more than just one day, with the holiday spanning twelve days following December 25th and concluding on January 6th. You may be familiar with the holiday song The Twelve Days of Christmas. This song describes those twelve days, when many would traditionally give gifts throughout the long holiday, concluding with the Epiphany where the most gifts were given.
For Latino and Hispanic households, the Epiphany is celebrated with just as much spirit as others celebrate Christmas on December 25th. While the tradition originated in Spain, many Latin American countries have adapted those traditions with their own twists and cultural inspiration.
Dia de los Reyes traditions by country
Depending on where you’re from, Dia de los Reyes traditions may vary, but one aspect that remains the same is gift-giving. Similar to Christmas traditions, children anticipate the arrival of the Three Kings like others anticipate Santa Claus and in the morning children wake to find gifts.
In countries such as Puerto Rico, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, the celebration starts on January 5th with Víspera de Reyes, or Three Kings Eve, where children collect grass or hay in a box, as a gift for the camels. Instead of leaving out milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for reindeer, Hispanic and Latino children leave out their old shoes along with their gift to the camels.
In the morning, children wake to find their shoes filled with candies and other small gifts along with bigger gifts as well. Family members then gather to exchange gifts with each other and celebrate. Countries like Colombia use this family gathering to take down their Christmas tree and other decorations, as the holiday signals the end of the Christmas season.
For countries such as Peru and Brazil, the day is celebrated with parades honoring the holiday in a mix of cultural traditions and religious ceremonies.
And Mexico, a big part of Dia de los Reyes is the Rosca de Reyes. This round sweet-bread is decorated to resemble a king’s crown with the candied dried fruit. Part of the tradition includes a small baby Jesus figurine baked into the bread. Whoever finds the toy must then host a party for everyone on Día de la Candelaria or the Day of the Candles on February 2.
Interested in making a rosca yourself? Check out this recipe by Latina chef, Yvette Marquez, where she adds her own twist on the traditional dish.
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