In many Hispanic countries, the Christmas celebrations continue on into the New Year with the Three Kings Day tradition. Why? Because the Bible says people celebrated the very first Christmas this way.
From the Gospel of Matthew, we know that the first Christmas presents didn’t arrive on the day of Jesus’ birth. Instead, the Three Wise Men brought their gifts for the newborn Jesus 12 days later. The Catholic Church marks this day as the Epiphany.
Today, people celebrate Three Kings Day on the Epiphany, which falls on January 6.
Main Traditions of Three Kings Day
The typical Three Wise Man Day celebration includes a parade to welcome the Magi to town. In some countries, these parades become quite elaborate with sumptuous costumes and live camels for the kings to ride on.
Often, the parade ends at a nativity scene so the Kings can present their gifts to the baby Jesus. People also add three kings figurines to their home nativity scenes on this day.
The night before Three Kings Day, kids put their shoes out on the steps so that the Magi will pass by and leave them a gift.
For best results, kids should also put out some hay for the Magi’s camels to snack on or water for them to drink. In some families, the Kings leave the gifts under the Christmas tree just like Santa instead of in the shoes.
Of course, no Hispanic celebration would be complete without a feast. In this case, a special sweet bread called Rosca del Reyes, especially in Mexico, forms the centerpiece of the feast. if you want to see more about Mexican Christmas visit Christmas in Mexico where I describe the main traditions.
The most amusing part is that the baker puts a small baby Jesus figurine inside the bread, and then whoever finds him in their slice must host another party for the family on February 2.
3 Ways to Celebrate Three Kings Day with Your Family
One of the really wonderful things about getting to celebrate Three Kings Day in the US comes from the fact that we have such a mix of cultures here that you get to pick and choose your favorite Three Kings Day activities to make your own special family celebration. You will find 3 possible ideas here:
Write a Letter to the Magi
Just like kids write letters to Santa, they can write a letter to one of the three kings to tell him what gift they would like him to bring.
Traditionally, kids write these letters on December 31. In families where the kids have already gotten toys for Christmas, parents encourage them not to ask for more material things. Instead they can ask for qualities like patience. This fits in with the symbolic gifts the Magi brought the baby Jesus: gold to represent his Kinghood, frankincense for his religious teachings, and myrrh for his suffering.
Make a Three Kings Costume
If you don’t have a community parade to go to on Three Kings Day, you can put on your own parade at home. First, you must make a costume. Make it as simple or complicated as you want.
Some good tips include choosing shiny fabric that looks like expensive silk and using a fleece or faux fur to trim the edges.
Kids will enjoy cutting out paper crowns and decorating them with all kinds of shiny, sparkly gems, glitter, and metallic paints or markers.
Do a Craft Project
This is my favorite as it is pretty flexible. You can find all kinds of fun crafts for kids to do on Three Kings Day, from making three kings figurines for the nativity scene to cutting out 6-pointed epiphany stars to decorate your home.
My personal favorite craft actually falls into the category of Three Kings Day games. We call it “Draw the Magi.” You need a few big pieces of paper to tack to the walls, some pencils or washable markers, and a blindfold.
You will get some big laughs watching the kids and adults try to draw blindfolded. Then, you can hold a contest afterwards to award a small prize to the two people who have made the best and worst drawing.
By the way, if you want to know the meaning of the Three Kings gifts in more depth visit The Meaning of The Three Kings Gifts. The important message here is to make the holiday special with your family, taking it as an opportunity to pass down your family traditions.