The magical night of January 5 is eagerly awaited by children and adults alike, but few know the origin of this tradition that has lasted to this day and each year comes loaded with gifts.
Día de Los Reyes, or Three Wise Men Day, is celebrated on January 6 to honor these 3 men who gave gifts to Jesus Christ after his birth on December 25th.
This celebration generally closes all the Christmas festivities.
How does the Three Wise Men Day take place?
Christmas may be over, but that doesn’t mean the giving (and receiving) of gifts is over! Most of the children in Latin America and Spain receive most of their gifts from the Three Wise Men, instead of Santa Claus during Christmas.
Before going to bed, the children place their and their family members’ old shoes on the balcony with a wishlist on top for the Three Wise Men, and sometimes they also leave bread and water for the camels they arrive on. In the morning, the shoes are filled with gifts from the Three Wise Men!
However, not every child will receive a gift. It has been established that the Three Wise Men will leave a piece of coal to all children who have misbehaved during the year (currently a piece of sugar is left inside the shoes to imitate coal).
Three Wise Men festivities are celebrated in many different ways around the world, but these steps are followed by mostly everyone.
How did the shoe tradition start?
This has its origin in an urban legend: two friends of the baby Jesus, embarrassed to see him always barefoot due to the poverty of his family, wanted to give him their own shoes.
The problem was that their shoes were used. So to make them look new, the generous children made an effort to clean them as much as possible. They washed them and left them on the balcony overnight to dry.
The next day, miraculously, the shoes appeared full of gifts and sweets. Legend has it that the Three Wise Men had spent that night there and rewarded the kindness of the two children.
What is the origin of the names given to the Three Wise Men?
Despite the answers that can be found in the Bible, the origin of the Three Wise Men as we know them today comes from a long medieval tradition that “baptized” them with the names of Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar.
The names first appeared in the famous sixth-century mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare el Nuevo in the Italian city of Ravenna. According to a 12th century manuscript, it was believed that the Three Wise Men could protect people against epilepsy, and all you had to do was say a short prayer in the ear of a sick person pronouncing the names of the Three Wise Men to cure him/she.
In some parts of Europe, on January 6, their initials, GBM, were inscribed on all the doors of the houses to safeguard people against the attack of demons and witches.
In one important piece of Spanish literature from the 12th century, called Auto de los Reyes Magos, Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar appear, but they are not defined as “kings”, but as astrologers.
You can’t miss making a Rosca de Reyes for this special day!
To end this wonderful day, you can’t miss the most important and elemental sweet: the “Rosca” or “Pan” de Reyes, or Three Kings Bread. Here is our recipe of Rosca de Reyes to learn how to make it!
What is it made of? It’s a donut-shaped bun decorated with candied fruit, and although the original is made with marzipan, it can now be filled with cream and even chocolate.
On the Rosca de Reyes, a crown of the Wise Men is placed. This crown will select the lucky one who finds the baby Jesus doll hidden inside. On the contrary, whoever gets the bean will have to pay the price of the Rosca. The doll figure symbolizes the hiding of the infant Jesus from King Herod’s troops.
In Mexico, if you get this baby Jesus doll, it comes with the responsibility of preparing the tamales for el Día de la Candelaria or Candlemass Day!
Now you know a big part of the story of this amazing celebration!