If you are scratching your head wondering what Three Kings Day is, you’re not alone. Most people haven’t heard of it. You may be more familiar with Epiphany. Whatever you call it, it’s a celebration that marks the arrival of the Three Kings/Three Wise Men at baby Jesus’ side. In order to honor and worship Him, they brought treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
My husband (of Latin decent) grew up celebrating Kings Day, or Dia de Los Reyes. For him, this – not Christmas – was the main day that families gave gifts to each other – copying the giving that took place once the Magi reached baby Jesus. Christmas Day itself was much lower key, and focused on it being the day of Christ’s birth. I like that.
My family is of German decent. Traditionally, Kings Day is celebrated in our culture too. Being a pastor’s family, we always kept our Christmas tree up until January 6th, waiting for the arrival of the three kings. We didn’t trade gifts then, but we understood the significance of why our tree stayed up until then (Did you ever wonder WHY there are 12 days of Christmas? Now you know!).
In recent years, my parents and some of their friends began having an annual Epiphany Party. They’d gather for a nice dinner, and finish the meal with a cake that had a hidden bean in it. Whomever got the piece of cake with the bean in it got to be King for the night. Mind you, these were all adults jockying and eating for the position!
The idea of cake or bread with a special bean (or plastic baby Jesus) is typical of many cultures. This tradition can be found in many European and Latin American cultures. Personally, I think the bean is a lot safer option.
As a family of blended cultures, we do our big celebrating on Christmas Day. We do, however, save a couple of smaller gifts for our girls, and allow the Kings to deliver them before we wake on Kings Day. For us, it’s a neat way to once again focus on the religious significance of the season, and to highlight our Christian beliefs.
As I write this, I’m thinking that maybe we’ll add on the hidden bean tradition this year, and invite my parents over for dinner to celebrate with us. Our Epiphany, or Kings Day cake may be a pan of my special cornbread instead, but I’m sure the competition to be King for the evening will be just as steep!