“Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts.”
— Edith Schaeffer, author (1914-2013)
While the guys were watching marathon football, I was reading articles about Three Kings Day, a celebration unknown to me. It started with the Parade magazine in the Sunday paper about an American actor married to an Argentine actress. The actor said the family felt fortunate to celebrate American and Argentine customs including the cultural celebrations of Christmas and Three Kings Day.
Wondering about Three Kings Day, I looked it up. I was pretty sure it would involve feasting, fun, fellowship and family. Various internet sites, including the bilingual newspaper “Tu’ Decides,” provided some insights. The festival of Three Kings Day is celebrated on Jan. 6, the 12th day after Christmas. The day is also called Epiphany, Denha, Theophany and Little Christmas. The event celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men, also called Kings, Magi, astrologers, or as described by a child, “the smart men,” who came from the East following the star to the new “King of the Jews” born in Bethlehem.
The day is celebrated with specialty foods and gifts. In some countries and communities children put out shoes filled with hay as gifts for the smart men and hay for their camels. In the morning the hay disappears and in its place, gifts. Quite similar to hanging stockings on the mantel and leaving milk and cookies for Santa. Three Kings celebrants line up to see the kings occupying stores and malls to deliver their wish lists, asking for gifts they would like to receive when the kings visit their homes on Jan. 6.
The Three Kings celebration began in the Middle Ages in Europe, particularly Spain and France, and later trickled through Latin America, Mexico and Hispanic communities in North America. Mexico’s feast includes serving tamales, Mexican hot chocolate and a cake-like bread shaped like a wreath called Rosca de Reyes. Inside the cake is placed a small plastic baby “Jesus.”
The cake is the same as the familiar Mardi Gras “king cake,” a celebration that can run from Three Kings Day through Fat Tuesday, though the original meaning may be a bit obscured. The cake is wreath-shaped and decorated with candied fruit representing the kings’ crowns. Legend gives the kings names — Caspar, Blathazar and Melcior. Colors used on the cake are purple, green and gold, representing justice, faith and power.
Historically the first piece of cake went to a stranger, the next to one serving in the King’s Army, and the rest to guests. The person who receives the piece of cake with the baby gets the honor of hosting the Dia de la Candelaria festival which is held on Feb. 2, 40 days after Christmas.
Dia de la Candelaria celebrates Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple. The English translation is Candlemas, Day of Candles or Day of Lights. For this celebration there’s more feasting, candles, lanterns, parades, fiestas, a blessing for planting seeds and a blessing over candles, and if you’re fortunate, the opportunity to attend a bullfight. For anyone experiencing a letdown after Christmas, there’s a whole lot more to come.
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