During the night of January 5 and early morning of January 6, the hearts of children and the not-so-young are filled with the illusion to receive Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthasar, better known as the three Magi Kings. This tradition makes magic reign in the houses and the illusion of receiving a gift takes over the believers. But do you know where this fable comes from? Here we explain it to you:
Three Magi Kings Day is celebrated every January 6 in several countries, in order to remember the adoration of the baby Jesus by the three Magi. And it is that, according to the story, mounted on a camel, a horse, and an elephant, they traveled from the East to Jerusalem guided by the star of Bethlehem, to adore a newborn prophet and bring him three offerings: gold, which represents the metal of kings; incense, offering of the gods and myrrh, as an announcement of future suffering.
The gospel also mentions that Herod, king of Judea at that time, sent for the magicians to question them, warning them that once they knew the location of the child, they would go for him. At the end of their visit to the manger with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, an angel warned the kings not to return with Herod and they continued their way.
The tradition is different in different countries, but in almost all of them, the hope is the same: to receive some gift to honor the gifts given to baby Jesus years before. As payment for this, the families waiting for the wise men provide water for their animals and cookies, since they must continue their journey around the world. It is also well known that for children who have not behaved well during the year, a piece of coal is left as a punishment for their behavior.
The origin of the Epiphany Cake or Rosca de Reyes is a tradition that had its beginnings in the Middle Ages in European countries such as France and Spain, which, shortly after, arrived in Mexico during the conquest. Since then it is customary to break a bagel, which is characterized by its circular shape, a symbol of God’s eternal love without beginning or end. The crystallized dried fruits that adorn the bread symbolize the jewels embedded in the crowns of the Magi Kings and the hidden doll represents baby Jesus.
As a curious fact, in Mexico there is a custom that whoever finds the baby Jesus, inside said bagel, must take care of him until February on the day of La Candelaria, where tamales have to be offered to the family. According to tradition, the Rosca de Reyes is broken on January 6, the day the Three Magi Kings arrive.
In addition to leaving gifts to children who have been good, there are many other customs related to these characters who travel the world in a single night:
- The “Cabalgata de Reyes” is organized, during which floats with the kings inside parade through the main streets of the cities.
- In the previous weeks, the children write a letter asking them for the gifts they want to be brought to them on the magical night. It is normal to place it in a pair of shoes so that, when they get home, they read it and leave the requested gifts.
- In Spain, the Roscón de Reyes is eaten for breakfast, inside there is usually a small surprise. Whoever finds it, pays for the following year’s roscón.
- In Puerto Rico, children run around the yard collecting food for the camels to put in a shoebox and place next to their bed. Later, the kings leave their gifts in it.
- In Peru, gifts are not given, what is done is the “Bajada de Reyes”, which consists of having a small celebration by disassembling the nativity scene, leaving money while the figures are removed.