When I was a little girl in Guatemala we used to celebrate El Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day). Three Kings Day or Epiphany is a holiday celebrated in many Latin American countries on January 6th. In many countries children get presents on this day from the Magi instead of getting presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day form Santa Claus.
El Día de Reyes commemorates the day in which the three magi, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh to the newborn baby Jesus.
On the night, of January 5, the figurines of the Three Wise Men or the Three Magi where added to the nativity scene. We always had a huge nativity scene in the living room near the Christmas tree. In Guatemala people make elaborate scenes with colored sawdust, trees, lakes and mountains. Before going to bed the children place their old shoes under their bed or in the living room near the nativity scene, where the Wise Men will leave them their presents. Some also place outside the house hay and a bucket with water for the animals, and even some cookies and milk for Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar.
Early in the morning on January 6th we would wake up and run to see what the Reyes had left for us.
The Rosca de Reyes
Later in the day we would go to my grandmother’s house where the whole family would share a Merienda de Reyes. The most important part of which was the Rosca de Reyes, a bread made with crystallized fruit. The Spaniards brought the tradition of celebrating the Epiphany and bringing the Rosca to the New World. In many Latin American countries the Rosca is served along with tamales and hot chocolate.
A ceramic figurine of the Baby Jesus is hidden inside this delicious Rosca. The Baby is hidden because it symbolizes the need to find a secure place where Jesus could be born, a place where King Herod would not find Him.
Each person cuts a slice of the Rosca . The knife symbolizes the danger in which the Baby Jesus was in. One by one the guests carefully inspect their slice to see if they got the baby Jesus figurine. In some countries it is believed that whoever finds the baby Jesus figurine is blessed and must take the figurine to the nearest church on February 2, Día de la Candelaria. In the Mexican culture, whoever gets the baby figurine shall be the host, and invite everyone present to a new celebration on Candelaria, and he also shall get a new dress for the Baby Jesus of the Nativity scene.
At home in Guatemala we all wanted to be the one to get the baby Jesus because that meant good luck. We would buy the Rosca de Reyes from the bakery and there where different versions of it some with crystallized fruit, some filled with marzipan or cream. I have also seen the Rosca the Reyes having a small angel or even a ring.
Last year we celebrated the Día de Reyes for the first time since we moved to the United States. The kids where still young and didn’t really understand it’s significance. This year we have read books about the Three Kings and watched, videos and they are really excited about the arrival of Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar. They left their shoes out and went to bed very excited. I love that we are keeping this tradition alive at home.
Here is a great video of the Día de los Reyes in Spanish, ideal for the kids. Both my children really loved it!