Some people take down their Christmas decor on Boxing Day—but the Christmas season isn’t over quite yet! If you’re familiar with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song, you might be surprised to learn that the 12 days actually start on Christmas Day, meaning Christmastime actually extends through January 6, which is known as Three Kings Day.
The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the three kings (also known as the three wise men) Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who traveled to Bethlehem to greet baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Although the birth of Jesus is celebrated on Christmas Day, the three kings didn’t actually reach him until 12 days later—which is why Three Kings Day is celebrated on the 12th day of Christmas.
This is also why it’s tradition to leave your Christmas tree up through January 6—because the Christmas season doesn’t end until after Three Kings Day has been celebrated.
When is Three Kings Day?
Three Kings Day is always on January 6!
How to celebrate Three Kings Day
The holiday is primarily celebrated in Spain and Latin America, but Latino communities have shared the tradition all over the world. The holiday is observed with parades and parties as people celebrate the three kings arriving to baby Jesus. Here’s how you can celebrate the holiday this year.
- Set out snacks. The three kings rode to Bethlehem on camels, so the night before the holiday, children set out grass or other snacks for the camels. If you’re familiar with the tradition of leaving cookies for Santa, this custom is very similar—but instead of leaving cookies and reindeer feed, families prepare snacks for the camels.
- Gather with family. For many families, Three Kings Day is as big of a celebration as Christmas Day. It’s customary to gather with friends and family to celebrate, often by opening gifts, playing musicand sharing a large meal together.
- Give gifts. Typically, children give and receive gifts on Three Kings Day. In some parts of the world (primarily in Spain), children also leave their shoes by the door so the three kings will come in the night and fill their shoes with small gifts—just like on Saint Nicholas Day!
- Make sweet bread.In Mexico especially, it’s customary to make rosca del reyes, which is a sweet bread that represents the kings’ crowns. It’s typically made into huge long loaves at bakeries, and people come to stand in long lines to grab a slice. Similar to the kingcake tradition at Mardi Gras, there is often a small baby figurine inside one of the slices.
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