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Americas: Celebrating the Visit of the Three Kings

The holiday season continues across the Americas, even as Christmas and the New Year holiday have all passed. In many countries in the region, the feast of “Los Reyes Magos” (The Three Kings) is an equally important festivity in many households. The day falls around the time of Epiphany and is celebrated on January 6th (or often the Sunday before), which is closely related to the 12 Days of Christmas as referred to in popular holiday stories.




Photo by El Mundo de Laura and used under a Creative Commons license

Each country celebrates the holiday, sometimes with its own variations, but the day commemorates that story of the three wise men (or three kings), who visited the newborn baby Jesus in the town of Bethlehem. Children across the region leave out grass and water for the kings’ camels, who in turn, leave behind toys and sweets for the children. Even though the holiday is a religious one, it is falling victim to commercialization, especially targeted at Latin American immigrants, as mentioned by Erwin C of The Latin Americanist:

However, the economic crisis across the region is having an effect on this long-standing tradition. Ingrid of Vivir México [es] writes about her experience in Mexico:

Hoy que salí a la calle, al centro, temía encontrarme hordas de compradores trabajando para los Reyes Magos y su visita anual a los niños de nuestro país. Y sí, sí me encontré muchos compradores pero nada que ver con años pasados.

Según leo, este año las ventas de juguetes se redujeron de un 50 a 60% en México debido a los problemas económicos que enfrentamos día a día con la crisis mundial. Es triste, porque aunque estamos hablando de juguetes, el fin lúdico es tierno y parte de las tradiciones mexicanas. Gracias a la falta de dinero, los Reyes Magos sólo tienen capacidad de comprar juguetes pequeños, de los más baratos.

Today I went downtown, and I was afraid to run into hordes of shoppers working for the Three Kings and their annual visit to our country's children. And yes, I did see a lot of shoppers, but nothing like previous years.

According to what I read, this year sales of toys decreased 50-60% in Mexico due to the daily economic problems because of the world crisis. It is sad, because even though we are talking about toys, it is about fun and part of Mexican traditions. Due to the lack of money, the Three Kings are only able to buy small and inexpensive toys.

This holiday often excites children with the prospect of more presents. Louis Cyphre of El Opinador Compulsivo [es] becomes a little nostalgic about his childhood in Argentina and publishes an essay about the Three Kings that he wrote when he was in the 7th grade. The mystery and magic of this holiday appeals especially to children, who continue the tradition, with a little help of parents and relatives. However, Zenia Regalado in Cuba, regrets the time when she revealed the true identity of the gift giver [es].

A propósito de la fecha recordaba hoy el día en que maté una ilusión de mi hija cuando tenía cinco años. Ella colocó entonces yerbitas bajo su cama a la espera de un juguete que había pedido: una muñeca.

Se la compré y la coloqué a los pies de su cama. Al despertar dio un salto de alegría al verla.

Entre desorientada y confundida le dije: “No fueron los reyes magos, fue tu reina maga”.

Defender la fantasía a esa edad infantil suele ser una tendencia que más de uno asume. También como madre creo en ello, aunque quizás cometí una herejía.

On this date, I recall the day that I destroyed the illusion of my daughter, when she was 5 years-old. She placed herbs under her bed in order to wait for the toy that she asked for: a doll.

I bought her the doll and placed it at the foot of her bed. When she awoke, she jumped with joy upon seeing the doll.

I entered (her room) disorientated and confused, and I said, “It wasn't the Three Kings, it was your Wise Queen.”

Defending a fantasy at that young age is usually something that one takes on. Also, as a mother I believe in it, although maybe I committed a heresy.

The holiday is very important in many of the Latin American countries, whose citizens are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic or from other Christian traditions. However, in the country of Haiti, there are differences in the way various religious and spiritual traditions celebrate the day. Darlie writes:

Cependant, cette fête de l'Epiphanie demeure jusqu'ici très controversée en Haïti par les 3 tendances religieuses les plus en vogue du pays. (protestant, catholique et vaudouisant).

Les catholiques célèbrent l'eucharistie pour marquer cette journée, pour les vaudouisants, c'est l'occasion de prendre leur bain de chance chez les “ougan”=prêtres du vaudou tandis que les chrétiens protestants ne s'en mêlent pas car pour eux cette fête reste une histoire catholique…

S'il y a une chose sur laquelle les haïtiens se mettent d'accord sur cette fête, c'est que l'Epiphanie constitue le pont qui relie la fête nationale aux festivités carnavalesques. Oui, les haïtiens n'attendent chaque année que ce jour là pour donner le coup d'envoi au carnaval. C'est surprenant mais vrai, le carnaval haïtien commence dans 7 jours soit dimanche prochain sur le Champs-de-Mars où de nombreux groupes musicaux ambulants dits les bandes à pied se donneront rendez-vous pour faire danser des centaines de milliers de gens venus de quatre coins du pays.

However, the Epiphany still remains controversial in Haiti for the country's three most popular religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, and Voodism).

To mark this day, Catholics celebrate the Eucharist. For the voodooists, it's a day to visit the “ougan” (voodoo priest) and take their lucky bath. While the Protestant christians don't join in because for them, the holiday is for the Catholics…

If there is one thing about the holiday Haitians agree on, it's that the Epiphany is the bridge between Haitian Independence Day and the festivities of Carnival. Yes, Haitians wait every year for this day to kick off Carnival. It's surprising, but true. Haitian Carnival begins next Sunday on the Champs-de-Mars were numerous traveling music groups [buskers], called “bands on foot”, will gather to make the hundreds of thousands of people, coming from all four corners of the country, dance.

Jennifer Brea contributed to this post.

1 comment

  • This tradition is one of the most popular in Mexico, even some people exclude Santa Claus’ presents on the 25 of Decembre, giving more importance to “Los 3 Reyes Magos” and even on january 5 family and friends get together for “rosca” (a special bread for this day) to celebrate the coming of the Tres Reyes Magos. Inside this bread there are little plastib baby dolls, and if by any chance one of them appear inside your bread you will invite all your friends and family to eat tamales and atole on February the second. So… the tradition is not over yet.

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