The story of Christmas doesn’t begin or end on the 25th. There’s an entire holiday season full of parties and gifts that leads up to Christmas Day. And, for many around the world, a hugely important Yule-inspired holiday is celebrated after the new year: Three Kings Day (or The Feast of the Magi), known in many Latino cultures as Dias de la Reyes. It’s a day that is as venerated and fun-filled as Christmas morning.
Dias de la Reyes, which falls every year on January 6th, is the exclamation point at the end of the holiday season. While some spend the first week in January wrapping up glass ornaments and dragging away the Christmas tree, that isn’t the case in cultures which celebrate The Feast of the Three Kings. For those lucky countries, the holidays end with a bang, with gifts, with goodies—with joy. It’s one final chance to celebrate a beautiful season with the ones you love. I’ve pulled together some royal Three Kings Day gift and party ideas, if you haven’t been lucky enough to celebrate the occasion before. So, read on. It’s the wise thing to do.
The Feast of the Three Kings: Celebrating Dia de las Reyes
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Three Kings followed the Star of Bethlehem to the manger where the Christ child lay swaddled. In the gospel, they are just referred to as visitors from the East, and while their number is never mentioned, the three gifts that were brought—the now famous gold, frankincense, and myrrh—led scholars to believe there were three of them.
Who they were has always been up for debate. “Kings” was a later interpolation, but they are most often referred to as astronomers, or just the “Wise Men.” Some people believe they were Zoroastrian priests, which lends a certain symbolic weight to early Christendom. By the middle of the first century, though, they were given names: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar.
Regardless of who they were, their visitation was important to Christian history. It was a symbolic recognition of the importance of Jesus to everyone. Three Kings Day celebrates the idea that his story is universal; even distant kings (or astronomers) come to bow down. That’s why it is a feast day, and why some cultures really elevate that feast to a full-blown celebration.
Feliz Dia de la Reyes: A Gift Exchange With Camels and Shoes
In many Latin cultures, the Wise Men are a bigger deal than Santa. One of the traditions is for children to put out a bowl of water and a bowl of grass (for the camels) on the night of January 5th, and ring their shoes around the bowls. When they awake, the shoes are filled with presents. (Presents can also be placed outside the shoes, of course. It’s hard to get an XBox in a sandal.)
It’s a day filled with parades and parties. One tradition is to have Rosca de Reyes, or “King’s Bread.” In Mexico, thousands of people gather to eat from a mile-long string of connected loaves. It’s a communal affair: everyone bakes and everyone eats, sharing from each other’s ovens. It’s like a city-wide gift from everyone, to everyone. Of course, yours can be a little bit smaller.
This is a sweetbread, with a twist: There’s a figurine of the Christ child hidden within it (echoing a Mardi Gras tradition). Whoever finds the figurine has to make tamales for everyone on February 2nd, which is the Feast of the Candles. While the root of this silliness is unclear, it is a good reason to eat tamales. Note: There is never a bad reason.
The day is usually rounded off by a feast. There aren’t any traditional foods, which is wonderful. It means every family has a tradition of their own! You can continue traditions or start a new one every year (if the tradition is to have no tradition at all). At the dinner, the children often wear gold toy crowns to pretend they’re the kings, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.
Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for Royal Fun
Needless to say, Dia de la Reyes is a great reason for everyone, not just the kids, to get and receive gifts. It’s still the Christmas season, after all. They can be exchanged at the end of dinner, or when the kids are opening their gifts around the shoe ring. But what gifts to give? Here are a few Magi-inspired ideas, but like with the food, there aren’t traditional gifts, so don’t feel bound by these ideas:
- An incense holder: Why an incense holder? Because you may be giving them incense sticks. After all, what better way to celebrate the Feast of the Magi than by inhaling the beautiful scents of frankincense and myrrh? While these may be inexpensive now, spices and perfumes and incense were incredibly valuable back then, and the symbolism shows that you truly care.
- Oils and Lotions: There are, of course, other ways to give the scents, including oils and lotions. These are wonderful aromatherapy gifts, and can make anyone’s day a little more relaxed.
- Gold: We aren’t, of course, going to tell you to give someone actual gold (although you can, if you want). But why not something golden, like decorative throw pillows or a candle holder?
A Magi Gift Exchange Is a Wise Idea
Remember, there aren’t traditional gifts. You don’t have to go down the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” road. Indeed, your gift giving options are wide open, but this can make gift giving tricky. If there are a lot of people in your family or group, you might want to consider setting up a gift exchange.
A Three Kings gift exchange can be run like a Secret Santa, which in this case we’ll call a Secret Gaspar, because that’s the easiest name to type. In your Secret Gaspar, everyone is assigned a giftee, and you’re given a list of what they might want. You can even ask questions anonymously, and they can add or subtract from their lists. No one knows who anyone is, since it’s all run online.
You can do this if you are going to be together on Jan 6th, or have the gifts sent to be opened all around the country—or even the world. For families with relatives in Latin America, this is a wonderful way to bring everyone together.
Sometimes, you can’t all get together. You can’t follow the Star of Bethlehem to give gifts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t all be together, in spirit and through technology, sharing gifts and laughter in warm remembrance of that cold night and three mysterious strangers all those thousands of years ago.
If you’re interested in more international gifting reads, the elves say A Freilichen Purim to you!
What’s in your shoe? Tell us about your favorite Dias de la Reyes gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting, browse our gift guides.
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