Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year again! Indeed, Christmas around the world is not over yet: there are several countries still celebrating the festive season this month. Case in point? Most of Latin America, Spain, and any other country that celebrates Three Kings Day on January 6th. Which is why I’m introducing you to Epiphany customs and traditions for Cultural Tidbits Monday this week..
Three Kings Day: Epiphany customs and traditions around the world
Puerto Rico: naturally, I must start with Tree Kings Day customs and traditions in my island. For kids, it is a major day: like the second coming of Santa Claus. Many will gather grass in shoe boxes and place them either under their beds or under their Christmas trees to feed the Kings’ camels — think of it like leaving cookies for Santa — the night of January 5th. Then, on Epiphany morning, they run under their beds or Christmas trees to find more gifts they asked for.
Italy: I have chosen this country to be next in our list because it shares many Epiphany customs and traditions with Latin America. Like many Latinos, Italians don’t celebrate the coming of Santa Claus on December 25th. Rather, they celebrate the day when Tree Wise Men showered baby Jesus with gifts, 12 days after Christmas. Furthermore, it is not the Three Kings who bring the gifts to the children: but La Befana – an old lady on a broomstick, who fills stockings and homes with gifts the night before (January 5th).
Spain: it was our Conquistadors who brought not only the Three Kings Day celebration, but also the roscones to the New World. Better known as Rosca de Reyes throughout Latin America, the Spanish tradition is to stuff the cake (“roscon”) with a small baby Jesus or toy, as well as a dry fava bean. Then, back at the Epiphany banquet, whoever finds the toy is crowned King or Queen of the party–while the unfortunate soul who finds the dry bean instead has to pay for next year’s celebrations [Wikipedia].
Another Three Kings Day tradition in Spain is for children to fill shoes with barley and hay for the kings’ camels. Particularly, they hope to please Balthazar, as they believe he is the one who leaves the presents.
Jordan & the West Bank/Palestine: Epiphany in the Middle East? Yes — and they go big. For instance, Coptic Jordanians and Palestinians have the Three Kings Day tradition of gathering by the thousands along the Jordan River in Amman or Jericho, where a parade and service take place. There, the Baptism of Jesus is represented by the blessing and splashing of water under a wooden cross. Additionally, priests carry olive leaves and sprinkle holy water to believers [spiritualliving360.com].
Egypt: Coptic Christians celebrate the great Feast of Epiphany on a different day each calendar year, as they follow a special Coptic calendar. In 2014, for instance, it will be celebrated on January 19th. The major difference from Latin celebrations? It is a rather solemn day, where most go through intense fasting and cleansing. Holy water is used to bless many homes on this day.
England: the English have a similar Epiphany tradition of stuffing a fruitcake like the Spaniards, except they usually include other items (with other meanings). They also hold parades and open-air nativity scene recreations as well. More interestingly though, Epiphany in England used to be the equivalent of April Fool’s Day in America. I can’t imagine playing jokes on what many Latinos consider a “holy day” of sorts…
Mexico: and the fruitcake fiascoes continue! Mexican Rosca de Reyes is baked with a baby Jesus figurine inside…but! Whoever finds it isn’t a lucky King or Queen — instead, they are expected to host the Dia de la Candelaria party, which is celebrated as soon as February 2nd. Additionally, like in most Latin American countries, kids leave hay inside their shoes, expecting the 3 Kings will exchange it for gifts, on January 5th.
That’s it for our Three Kings Day customs and traditions! If you are still in the festive spirit though, I recommend you check out my Christmas series, featuring the holidays of many other countries: