Part of what we LOVE about what we do isn’t only the traveling around the world and hosting study abroad tours, but it’s also learning new traditions from new cultures. And one of our favorites comes from Latin America and will be happening early next week – the Epiphany, or El Dia de los Reyes. Most in Latin American cultures celebrate this post-Christmas holiday as a way to honor the visit of the Magi, or the three wise men. For those of you also interested in foreign cultures, here’s a little bit more info about this extended holiday season in Latin American cultures.
About the Dia de Reyes
Using the term the “Epiphany” refers to the religious holiday surrounding this period after Christmas day. Many countries and cultures around the world celebrate the two or three weeks after the birth of Christ through special memorials and ceremonies. The Latin American culture, in particular, has adopted this tradition. Rather than children looking forward to Santa’s visit (although some modern traditions have adopted these traditions, too) many in Latin American countries look forward to January 6, which is the day when the Magi visited Christ and brought him gifts. Ceremonies and traditions lead up to this special day.
Traditions of the Dia de los Reyes
Traditions for this special day vary based on the country, including how the special rituals are performed and the names for which each is called. Mexico especially has a rich tradition of celebrating the Dia de los Reyes.
Reyes Mago – Similar to Santa
Instead of writing notes to Santa and visiting the mall, children in Mexico have traditionally looked to the Reyes Mago for their gifts to appear. Leading up to the evening of January 5, children write notes and may even visit their favorite “Rey Mago” – Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar – requesting gifts for the holiday. Similar to American culture, in some cities, fairs are held where children can visit dressed up kings and take photos with them while giving the kings a wish list. Some children even write notes, others have tied wishes to balloons and flew them into the sky.
The Evening of January 5
In Mexican culture, the evening of January 5 is as special as Christmas Eve to many children in the US. It’s on this evening that the three wise men are displayed with Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus at the nativity set. In addition, children (and some adults) polish their shoes and set them out so the Rey Mago can deliver their gifts. Some children also set out hay (for the Magi’s camels) and snacks for the visiting kings.
January 6 – El Dia de los Reyes and the Merienda de Reyes
On the actual day of El Dia de los Reyes, a meal is held in Latin American cultures (Merienda de Reyes.) The food served will vary on the country, for example those in Spain may serve different entrees than those in Mexico (usually tamales.) However, in most cultures, a Rosca de Reyes is served with hot chocolate. The Rosca de Reyes is a round sweet bread with candies on the top. In several cultures, a small, plastic baby is baked into the cake representing hiding Jesus from Herod. The cake is served at the meal, and whoever receives the slice with the baby has responsibility for the future celebrations. In Mexico, if you receive the slice with the baby, you are to host a celebration on Feb. 2nd February 2 when tamales and atole are typically served. In other countries, it’s just your duty to foot the bill for next year’s cake
February 2 – El Dia de Candeleria (Candlemas Day)
The holiday season lasts all month until February 2 when the season comes to an end. In several cultures, another meal is served at the “candle mass day.” This is also the day when the nativity is put away, and the holiday season officially comes to a close.