Three Kings Day Across Latin America
By Kerri Applegate & Julie Parenteau
It’s a new year and the holidays are behind us, right? Not so fast! On January 6th Catholics around the world celebrate the last of the 12 days of Christmas, called Three Kings Day (or Epiphany). Religious tradition talks of how the three wise men traveled from afar (Africa, Europe, Arabia to be exact) bringing gifts for the new born king, Jesus. Such a long trip was certainly worthy of a celebration upon arrival! Never wanting to miss a party, Latin Americans recognize this holiday, but how they do so differs from one country to another.
In Mexico, for example, Epiphany is celebrated with parades, parties and a delicious cake called Rosca De Reyes. A small doll of baby Jesus is hidden inside this cake to represent how he needed to be protected and hidden. The person that finds the hidden savior has the honor of preparing tamales for another holiday called Fiesta de la Candelaria on February 2nd. She or he becomes the “godmother/godfather” for the year.
Peruvians in Lima, a city that was founded on January 6th, offer gifts to a live infant who is spread on a blanket in the Andean market. Men dress in traditional clothing and bring small tokens to the baby. A couple representing Mary and Joseph also stand nearby. Like in Mexico, people in Peru cook Kings Cake and hide a plastic doll inside. Whoever finds the baby is said to have luck all year. That person is also responsible for bringing the cake the following year!
For Puerto Ricans, the three kings arrive on camel during the night. Children leave small boxes with fresh grass in them (to feed the camels!) under their beds with the hope that the kings will leave gifts behind. On the morning of January 6th, children awake to open gifts. Families attend church and local parades where children can see the kings walking by. People celebrate by eating and drinking holiday favorites like lechon (roasted pork), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and coquito (a rum-laced egg nog). Traditionally this day was more popular than Christmas, but close ties to the U.S. have made Christmas almost as popular.
Of course these are not the only ways to celebrate this day, but perhaps seeing these makes you interested in what other holidays are celebrated in Puerto Rico and beyond. Stay tuned as we will post more cultural insights throughout the year!
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