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Three Kings' Day Celebration: History And Traditions Behind 'El Día De Los Reyes'

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Santa Claus may have gone back to the North Pole to rest, but it doesn’t mean the gift-giving (and receiving) is over -- at least not for the thousands of children in Latin America and Spain anxiously awaiting“El Día de los Reyes” Celebration on Jan. 6th.

For many Christians, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the 12th day of Christmas known as the “Feast of the Epiphany” or “Three Kings' Day”.

The holiday marks the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the three Kings, also referred to as three Wise Men or Magi. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the men found the divine child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar -- representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa respectively -- travelled by horse, camel, and elephant in order to present baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts.

The gold offered by one of the wise men is a symbolic acknowledgment of Jesus’ royal standing as “King of the Jews,” while the frankincense manifests the divine nature of the baby’s existence, since he is not an earthly king but the Son of God. And finally the myrrh, often used to embalm corpses, was gifted to the newborn as a symbol of Jesus’ mortality -- foreshadowing his death as a means to cleanse humanity of its sins.

Reyes festivities come in different shapes and sizes across the globe from community parades to three-day celebrations at Disneyland. In Mexico, thousands gather every year to taste a mile-long “Rosca de Reyes” (Kings’ Bread) while others simply make the holiday staple at home honoring the tradition to hide a baby jesus figurine within the bread -- the person whose slice has the figurine must prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles on Feb. 2!

Here are some of the traditions, recipes, and celebration that surround “El Día de los Reyes”.

  • Celebration of Three Kings Day
    Three Kings Day, or "Feast of the Epiphany," is celebrated in many parts of the world and marks the day on the Christian calendar when the magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Many Hispanic communities in the U.S. celebrate Three Kings Day with many different traditions including parades and performances. Even Mickey is joining the celebration this year, as Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., is expanding its Three Kings celebration after a successful test run in 2012. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
  • Traditional "Rosca De Reyes"
    Traditionally baked round as an allusion to a King's crown, the Rosca de Reyes (or Kings' Bread) is a staple of the holiday. Hidden within the sweet bread is a "baby jesus" figurine -- the individual who finds the toy in their slice must then prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles, which is celebrated on February 2.
  • Mexico's Celebration Is A Mile-Long
    In Mexico City a mile-long "Rosca de Reyes" was made to celebrate the holiday and over 200,000 people gave it a try in Zocalo Square. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo ESTRELLA
  • Line Up Your Shoes At The Door
    Children leave their shoes right outside their doors so the Three Kings will leave their gifts inside, the bigger presents are placed around them.
  • Grass For The Camels
    Getty Images
    Many families leave a box of grass (or hay) and water for The Three King's camels to eat. Similar to the tradition of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa Claus. Camels are known for being a bit sloppy and leaving a trail of hay behind that children can often follow to their gifts!
  • Celebrate With Family Dinner
    Hispanic families will usually celebrate Three Kings Day with a scrumptious dinner that is topped off with the King's Bread (Rosca de Reyes) for dessert. Children also sometimes make crowns to wear at the table in honor of the kings.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misquoted Matthew by describing the "star" the three kings followed as the "North star."

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