Happy Three Kings Day! History, Traditions & Holiday Greetings

Published October 25, 2021
Woman cutting epiphany cake besides the Christmas tree

Happy Three Kings Day! If you ever wondered what Three Kings Day is all about and how it's celebrated, you are in for a treat. It's interesting to know children in different countries don't write letters to Santa as a Christmas tradition. Instead, European and Latin children send their letters to one of the Three Kings (or all three) on the eve of Three Kings Day in preparation for the big celebration the following day.

What Is Three Kings Day?

Three Kings Day or El Dia de los Reyes, also known as Feast of the Epiphany, is widely celebrated on January 6, marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas. People across Europe and Latin America celebrate this day with big feasts, different kinds of rituals, and festive parades to pay homage to the Three Kings.

History of the Three Kings Day

According to the Biblical story, the Three Kings (or the Three Wise Men), Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar, found baby Jesus after his birth in Bethlehem by following the path of a star across the desert for 12 days. The Three Kings traveled by camel, elephant, and horse, bringing symbolic gifts of gold, resin myrrh, and frankincense oil to baby Jesus, whom they believed was the King of Jews.

The three wise men on their camels with a dramatic sky

The Three Kings Day Traditions

There are several traditions followed for Three Kings Day:

  • Gifts: On January 5th, in preparation for the big day, families decorate their homes with a nativity scene featuring the Three Kings and Baby Jesus. Some children write letters. Others leave their out shoes hoping the Three Wise Men will bring special gifts.

  • Big feast: Great food plays a big part in the celebration. Families gather to enjoy a big feast indoors or outdoors. Typically, people start with a soup or salad followed by picadillo, rice, and beans.
  • King's bread: A King's bread is a highlight of the celebrations. The bread's shape resembles a wreath decorated with candied fruit and nuts. There's a surprise is hidden inside for somebody to find. It is customary to order a king's bread from a bakery rather than making it from scratch at home.

Three Kings Day in Spain

¡Felices Reyes! Bones Festes! On January 5th, Spanish cities kick off the celebration by partaking in a three-hour festive parade. In Barcelona, the Three Kings arrive by ship and are welcomed by the mayor with bread, salt, and keys to all city doors, in order for them to deliver gifts on the eve of Three King's Day. The Three King's Float Parade, also known as La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos, departs Ciutadella Park at about 6 p.m. It's a three-hour parade with 12 floats. An estimated 500,000 people attend this big float parade each year.

Spanish Epiphany cake, Roscón de reyes

Kids across Spain write wish letters to the kings, rather than Santa Claus. Gifts are delivered by the Three Kings on January 6th, which is considered the biggest Christmas gift giving day in Spain.

Traditionally, families enjoy King's bread--Tortell de Reis (Catalan) or Roscón de Reyes (Spanish). Inside the bread, a fava bean or a king figurine is hidden. The person who finds the king figurine is crowned the king or queen of the day, the person who finds the fava bean pays for the Roscón de Reyes.

¡Felices Reyes! means Happy Three King's Day!

Three Kings Day in Mexico

Traditionally, the Three King's Day or Día de Reyes, marks the end of Christmas and New Year's celebrations for Mexicans. They also celebrate Three King's day with their version of King's Bread, what they call Rosca de Reyes. A baby doll figurine is hidden in the bread, and the person who finds it will be assigned to buy tamales on Día de la Candelaria, which is a Catholic tradition celebrating the presentation of Jesus in the temple on the first Monday in February.

Rosca de Reyes

Mexican children leave their shoes out on January 5th hoping the Three Wise Men will pay them a visit and bring gifts. Some children receive gifts from both Santa Claus on December 24 or 25 and from the Three Kings on January 6th as soon as they wake up in the morning.

Feliz Dia de Los Reyes Magos means Happy Three Wise Men's Day!

Rosca de Reyes and King Cake

Although Rosca de Reyes and king cake have their similarities, king cake is an Americanized version, which is typically filled with cream cheese or cinnamon mixture, decorated with white icing, green, purple, and yellow sugar while Rosca de Reyes is filled and decorated with candied fruit and nuts. Rosca de Reyes looks and tastes quite different from King Cake.

Embracing Three Kings Day

For families in Spain and in many Spanish-speaking countries, the day is as important as December 25th is for American families. On January 6th, remember to wish ¡Felices Reyes! or Feliz Dia de Los Reyes Magos to your Spanish-speaking friends. Or even better, attempt to make King's Bread to share with family, friends, or co-workers.

Happy Three Kings Day! History, Traditions & Holiday Greetings