Many Latino families are celebrating tonight and tomorrow el Día de los Reyes Magos or The Three King’s Day. January 6th marks a tradition definitely worth preserving, as Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar are to Hispanic children what Santa Claus is to the kids of the United States.
The tradition of el Día de los Reyes Magos, also known as Epiphany, originated in the Bible. The Gospel of St. Matthew mentions three Jewish wise men from the East who traveled from Christmas Day to January 6th to visit baby Jesus in order to recognize him as the King of the Jews. They were guided by a star that led them to Bethlehem, and brought Jesus gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.
The big parade and other traditions
Although I’m not very fond of Christmas, the Epiphany is definitely something special to me. It all begins on the evening of January 5th, when a grand parade tours the center of every city in Spain. The Madrid parade is spectacular! Escorted by musicians, elephants, fairies or angels, the three kings, perched in their floats, wave to the thousands of children who have been waiting for hours in the intense cold, while the Pages throw candies. As a child I was excited to see the kings in person, now I feel happy when I see the same enthusiasm in the faces of my little nieces.
After the parade, which concludes with fireworks and a speech by their majesties, it’s time to return home and go to bed early. But not before leaving our shoes ready. That’s the most important thing! Shoes can be left under the tree, outside the front door or on a balcony, waiting to be filled with gifts. The other thing you cannot miss is a glass of water, milk or anise for the Kings, and a treat for their camels. It can be a polvoron or a piece of turrón, or even fresh grass in a box, as is tradition in Puerto Rico.
The next morning, the big moment arrives: children open their eyes, remember that it is el Día de Reyes and shoot out of bed to see the living room full of boxes. Despite the Kings allegedly leaving coal to the children who misbehave, children always receive all or some of the gifts they asked for in their letters of request days ago.
Rosca de Reyes for breakfast
After gifts, it’s time to eat a roscón or rosca de Reyes with hot chocolate en familia. This delicious sweet bread is made with butter and orange-flower water and decorated with candied fruit. It can be stuffed with cream or chocolate too. In Spain, a bean and a figurine are hiding inside. The finder of the figurine will be lucky that year while finding the bean means you must pay for the roscón. In Mexico, the small figure represents the baby Jesus and the person who finds it is responsible for holding a party on February 2, Día de la Candelaria.
A day to believe in magic
El Día de Reyes is unquestionably the holiday of children. Traditionally, adults also receive gifts, but of course, it’s not the same. In my case, years ago I announced to my parents, brothers and cuñadas that from that year on I would only buy gifts for the children in the family and freed them from the obligation to buy anything for me. I got tired of spending days searching for gifts just to follow cultural norms. It proved to be such an excellent idea that the other adult members of the family also adopted my philosophy! Now, my mother is the one who always has a gift for all of us. Because, after all, we’re still her children.
Without the stress of gift-giving for everyone, we fully enjoy the Epiphany. I love eating the roscón and watch my nieces open their gifts with excitement. The best of this holiday is that we adults can once again believe that everything is possible when we open our hearts. Every year, in the same manner I did when I was a child, I write my letter to the Kings and, embracing my inner child, go to bed trusting that next day will be a magic one.
Happy Día de Reyes!