In many countries around the world, folks celebrate Three Kings Day on January 6. Also called Epiphany, this holiday is the celebration of the Wise Men’s visit to baby Jesus after a long journey following a star.
Did you know that the 12 Days of Christmas starts on December 26 and lasts until January 6 when people celebrate Epiphany? It’s true! For many families, the Christmas celebration doesn’t end until Three Kings Day.
Why did Christians start celebrating Epiphany in the first place?
Well, back in the olden days, Christians wanted to remember the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth and what it meant to each one personally. To make Christmas more special, they spent the season of Advent fasting and praying. It became a time of spiritual preparation to go deeper with the Lord.
The fasting ended with the feast of Christmas, special church services were held and people rested from their work. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany were filled with saints’ days so it was eventually thought of as 12 Days of Christmas followed by Epiphany, another day to have a special service and celebrate.
Here are the saints celebrated by the Catholic Church between Christmas and Epiphany. The Protestant Church doesn’t celebrate holidays for the saints.
Epiphany, or the Feast of The Three Kings (or Twelfth Night on Epiphany Eve) is the final celebration of the Christmas season. Epiphany means “revelatory experience” and this special holiday not only celebrates the visit of the Wise Men, but some Orthodox denominations also remember the baptism of Jesus. In both occasions, Jesus is revealed as a holy King who is the Son of God. At His baptism, His Father says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. When the wise men visit, they bring gifts that are fit for a king.
We don’t know how many magi visited Jesus, but we do know that they brought 3 gifts:
Most Christians around the world celebrate Epiphany by attending church. In many Hispanic cultures, Epiphany, or We Three Kings Day is the day presents are exchanged.
So how do people around the world celebrate Three Kings Day?
Traditionally, Dia de los Reyes is the day gifts are exchanged rather than Christmas Day in Mexico. Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day) is also called Epiphany, falling on January 6. Dia de los Reyes is the celebration of the wise men’s visit to the baby Jesus.
After a delicious meal of tamales and hot chocolate, Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake, is served. King’s Cake, a special yeast bread, is baked in the shape of a crown with a hidden plastic Jesus figurine inside. Just as Christ’s birthplace location had to be hidden by the magi so that Jesus’ life could be spared, the plastic baby Jesus figure is “hidden” in the cake.
Whoever discovers the baby Jesus figure in his piece of cake gets to host the party the next year.
In Germany, tar singers go from house to house up until Epiphany, collecting for charity. A group of child star singers visit the German Chancellor and German Parliament each year to collect donations. Greta and Kurt would go to the German Parliament to collect donations for the poor and needy. That would be exciting! Other star singers just go around their own neighborhoods.
Families often get together to take the tree down and eat their gingerbread houses. They also enjoy King’s cake, a circular golden pastry filled with oranges and spices. Sadly, the Christmas season is over until next year.
Children in the Philippines leave shoes out on the Eve of Epiphany to receive gifts and sweets from the Three Kings. Some towns have parades with men dressed as the Wise Men giving out candy and gifts to children who are watching the parade.
Families light the Yule Log for the last time until next Christmas on Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night. They also eat a Twelfth Night Cake, a dense fruit cake with a bean, clove, and twig hidden inside. Whoever finds the bean is the king or queen so everyone else has to do what they say. The twig is the food and the clove is the villain. There is a special Anglican Church service on Epiphany.
Women, often exhausted from the hard work during the holidays, rest and relax on Epiphany while the men do the work. Women gather to drink tea and enjoy festive treats.
Children cut grass or greenery and put it in a box under their bed for the camels to eat in Puerto Rico. The kings arrive and leave gifts for the children on Epiphany Eve. On Epiphany, families enjoy a big holiday meal after church.
After a parade to the water in remembrance of Jesus’ baptism, a cross is thrown into the sea and men dive in to find it. It’s a huge competition on Epiphany to see who will be the first to find the cross underwater.
The Start of Mardi Gras
Louisiana, USA, the Caribbean, Venice, and a few other places around the world celebrate Mardi Gras season. From Epiphany to Lent, another church season of fasting, these places go wild with parades, masquerade balls, and King’s Cake. The day before Lent starts is called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. So, the season of Mardi Gras or Carnival, keeps the celebration going until Lent.
Our family would probably avoid Mardi Gras because of the excess of alcohol and partying that goes on, but it’s good to know when Mardi Gras starts and how that is related to Three Kings Day.
Ways to Celebrate Epiphany, or Three Kings Day
If you are like me, celebrating Three Kings Day is not part of our church experience, but one year we celebrated it with some Puerto Rican friends. I kept my Christmas decorations up until the day after Three Kings Day and we read the story of the Wise Men and make a King’s Cake. We had a blast!
Would you like to celebrate Three Kings Day?
When we celebrated Three Kings Day, we also talked about the deity of Christ. The Wise Men recognized that Jesus was a King. However, He was not just any king; Jesus was the King of Kings, the Creator of all Things, God Himself.
Christmas Unit Studies Blog post
Until next time, Happy Homeschooling,
Meredith Curtis, homeschooling mom, writer, speaker, and publisher, loves to encourage families in their homeschooling adventure. She is the author of Travel God’s World Geography Celebrate Christmas in Colonial America Unit Study, Celebrate Christmas in Germany Unit Study, and Celebrate Christmas with Cookies Unit Study. You can check out her books, curricula, unit studies, and Bible studies at PowerlineProd.com. Free Reading Lists for all ages are available at JSHomeschooling.com. Read her blogs at PowerlineProd.com and listen to her at Finish Well Podcast
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