We Three Kings of Latin America Are

We Three Kings of Latin America Are


For children in Latin America and of Hispanic descent, Santa is not the only gift-giver.  The Three Kings travel by camel and give out even more presents. Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6th, to honor the Three Wise Men and commemorate the day they gave gifts to baby Jesus. 

The holiday comes from the biblical tale in which the three kings, named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazer, travel across the desert for twelve days to reach Bethlehem. The gifts they bestowed upon baby Jesus were symbolic. Gold was associated with the belief that Jesus was King of the Jews. Frankincense was meant to represent the godly nature of Jesus and role he would play. The final gift, myrrh, foreshadowed the death of Jesus. There are a lot of festivities and traditions that are associated with this holiday. Some traditions are more commonly celebrated than others, but each country has it own unique traditions. 

6:30 AM: The holiday starts on a cold January day. Since it’s a Monday, I will have to be up early, which is not the way anyone wants to start a holiday. *sigh* For breakfast, there are bunuelos and api morado (Bunuelos are a fried breakfast pastry that is eaten all over Latin America, and api is thick drink made from purple corn and has a grape-y flavor.) The bubbly texture of the bunuelos and the chocolate flavor of champurrado complement each other well, both staples food on their own and are great together.  

Three Kings Day is not a widely recognized holiday in the United States. However, it is a holiday that is celebrated by the Latinx community. Many of the same traditions are celebrated throughout this community, such as eating the Rosca de Reyes and leaving shoes by the windowsill. Food is an important aspect of this holiday, and it is one of the most well-known traditions. Other foods that are eaten on this holiday include buñuelos, pozole, frijoles de la olla, and arroz con leche. Rosca de Reyes is a type of pastry that is specifically eaten on Three Kings Day. “Rosca” means wreath in Spanish, and “reyes” means kings. A small doll figure is baked inside, and whoever finds the doll has to host a party on February 2nd, when Dia de Candelaria is celebrated.

8:20 AM: I observe what little snow there is left from the classroom on the second floor, and I dream of the Abuelita hot chocolate that my mom brings out only on Three Kings Day. What makes it so special is that it is made with Mexican chocolate, the best kind of chocolate in the world. It seems like a world away from the freezing temperatures of January.

In, they report that many different countries outside of South America and Spain also celebrate Three Kings Day. For example, in Bulgaria, Three Kings Day is called The Epiphany Day. They celebrate by swimming in the lake, sea, or river, when the temperatures are freezing. The celebration starts when a priest throws a wooden cross into the body of water. Young men then compete to find the wooden cross and whoever is the first to retrieve it will have good health bestowed upon his home for the year. Greece has a similar tradition in which they also bless the nearest body of water, and then men jump into the icy waters to retrieve the cross. In Portugal, there is a village that has a tradition that is unique from the others-smoking cigarettes. Everyone in the villages smokes on The Epiphany, including children. The tradition is centuries old and the reason why or its symbolic meaning is unknown.

11:20 AM: The lunch period has started. Chicken and rice, black beans and corn, and other types of food are eaten. However, there is no staple food except for Rosca de Reyes. At home, there are peas, carrots, corn, and potatoes covering all the kitchen counters. Chicken is in the oven, and churros, alfajores, and mate are piping hot, ready for my Argentinian relatives. The dining room has been converted into an extension of the kitchen. 

The traditions that are celebrated all over Latin America and Spain are what makes Three Kings Day the holiday that it is. Children make a wish list of what gifts they would like to receive, similar to the Christmas tradition of writing a letter to Santa. After writing their list, they leave it in a pair of their shoes, which is then put by the windowsill. The reason behind leaving shoes on the windowsill is unknown, but in some countries hay is placed near the shoes, as a treat for the camels after their long journey. In the morning, there are presents near the shoes, and some hay left on the floor, mimicking the actions of the camels eating the hay. These traditions are some of the most important connections families have to their culture, which also teach children in the U.S. about their cultural roots. 

5:00 PM: Relatives are starting to arrive. Uncles, aunts, and cousins from both sides are there. Everyone from my dad’s third cousins to my mother’s cousin’s cousins are there. These parties are hosted every year at a relative's house, but there always seems to be someone that I have not met before. 

The festivities aren’t all kept inside. Villages turn out for parades that are held in the streets. In Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and other Latin countries, performers dress up as the Three Kings and walk in the streets, and dances are also performed, each tuned to that country’s culture. In Peru, dances such as La Marinera and Huayno are performed before the arrival of the Three Kings. A well-known event is the Descent of The Kings, which is more popular than receiving gifts. In Spain, every city hosts their own parade to welcome the Three Kings who have travelled from the Far East. After the parade, children leave their shoes on the windowsill and some water for the camels, and in the morning there are plenty of gifts and the water is gone. In the United States, there are several cities where huge festivities are held for Three Kings Day. NBC News reported that in Westchester County, New York, parades are held on a smaller scale compared to the ones in Latin America.

8:00 PM: After dinner, there is a sense of anticipation in the air, from adults and children alike. An aunt carries the famous cake and sets it down on the middle of the table. The Rosca de Reyes is cut, and each person is handed a piece of the cake. Instead of taking a bite, everyone searches for the plastic figurine of baby Jesus in their cake. A shriek of joy is heard a few seconds later, and one person emerges triumphant as the king of the day. The pride that comes with being named king almost eclipses the fact that they don’t get any privileges, but they resume the title of king on February 2nd, when they host a party for Día de Candelaria. There is a tinge of sadness when the party's over, because it is officially the end of the winter holiday season… until next year when the Three Kings come around again.