New Year’s Day may signal the end of the holidays for most Americans, but in many parts of the Hispanic world, January 6th brings yet another day of celebration!
Three Kings Day, or Dia de los Reyes Magos, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of the Son of God in His human form in the baby Jesus and the day that the Three Kings, also known as the wisemen, arrived in Bethlehem to worship the newly-born Jesus.
In many countries in Latin America, Three Kings Day is treated the day that well behaved children receive their presents. Children will leave out small candies for the kings, and grass and water for the camels they ride on (similar to the Santa Claus mythology of milk and cookies.) To Latinos, Three Kings Day isn’t simply a holiday – it’s a holy day, to be celebrated in the religious spirit.
Three Kings Day is a day of festivities, full of family, parties and food. Some of the delicacies reserved for this holy day, and other large holidays, are:
– Rosca de Reyes: though typically donut shaped, recipes change from country to country. Also homogenous for most countries, a small plastic baby Jesus is baked into the bread for whoever is the first to find it. (seen right)
– Bizcocho de Tres Leche: translated literally into “three milk cake,” this delicious dessert is a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three types of milk and topped with whipped cream and strawberries.
– Dulce de Leche: continuing on the dessert trend, this means “milk candy” and it’s as delicious as it sounds. It is a sauce or syrup that tastes similar to caramel, only richer.
– Coquito: an alcoholic eggnog made with rum, egg yolk, coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
– Pastelitos (empanadas): fried or baked pastries, usually with a meaty center like ground beef, chicken or pork.
– Arroz con leche: loosely translates to rice pudding. Sometimes called arroz con dulce, this dessert is a mixture of sweet spiced milk and rice pudding.
– Flan: a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top.
Central American countries often celebrate with a piñata as well. The shape and contents change from family to family, but the meaning is always the same: when the piñata is broken, and all the candies and trinkets come down, it represents blessings coming down from heaven.
Commercially, in the United States Christmas isn’t celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ anymore. Christmas has evolved to include non-Christians as well, into a celebration of family and giving. Three Kings Day is also a day about family coming together, but it has held onto its roots. Children are encouraged to create and decorate a little box for a symbolic baby Jesus to lie in. In the morning, they wake up with three tiny presents, one from each king, in the box. The older relatives often read bible stories to the children and describe the Kings’ journey to Bethlehem.
Three Kings Day is a celebratory end to the holiday season and Latinos look at it as a way to commemorate the birth of Jesus without overindulging in the commercialization of Christmas. There’s less stress on presents and other material goods; only the company of family and the celebration of the Son of God.