After Christmas and New Year’s, the holiday celebrations aren’t over just yet. For many Christians across Latin America and Spain, the holidays extend until Jan. 6 for the celebration of Three Kings Day.
Also known as the Epiphany, Three Kings Day celebrates the revelation of God as a human in his son, Jesus Christ. The term epiphany refers to manifestations of Jesus Christ. According to biblical accounts, the manifestations occurred when the Three Wise Men from the East (also known as the Magi or as the Three Kings) followed a bright star and came to worship Jesus at the manger in the town of Bethlehem, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and proclaimed Him the Son of God, and when Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana by changing water into wine.
The story has it that, at Jerusalem, the Three Kings attracted the attention of King Herod I of Judea by announcing Jesus’ birth, saying. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matthew 2:2). Having already heard of the place of Jesus’ birth from priests and scribes, Herod summoned the Three Kings and extracted the exact date on which the star appeared as confirmation of the biblical prophecy. He sent them to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus, asking that they disclose his exact location upon their return so that he, too, may worship the infant.
Three Kings followed a miraculous star that guided them to Bethlehem, where they honored the baby Jesus as king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-12). They presented the infant with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to the country by another road (Matthew 2:12).
The first mention of a feast to celebrate this multiple anniversary is at the end of the second century by father Clement of Alexandria, who wrote about an all-night vigil hosted in early January to commemorate the baptism of Jesus. By the fourth century, Christians celebrated the day as an anniversary of the physical birth of Jesus, an adoration of the Three Wise Men, a celebration of Christ’s baptism, and the miracle Jesus performed at Cana. In fourth century Spain and Italy, the day was observed primarily as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus. However, as the mid-fourth century rolled around and Rome celebrated the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, this day became known as Christmas Day and Three Kings Day underwent a transformation but continued to be one of the greatest celebrations of the Christian calendar.
Historically, Eastern Orthodox churches observed the holiday as a celebration of the baptism while Roman Catholic and Protestant churches focused on the visit of the Three Wise Men. Now, people celebrate in a variety of ways. In some countries, children gather grass or hay in a bag or box to leave out for the kings’ camels (or horses, depending on where you are). If the children are good, they will wake up to candies and other treats, and if not, they will wake up to coal. In other countries, children leave their shoes out for the kings to fill with gifts, but they also make sure to leave a drink for each of the three kings. Other countries host parades, act out the story of the three kings, and attend mass or other festivities to celebrate the coming of the three kings.
In 2019, Lake Nona hosted their own celebration, Vispera de Reyes, at the Lake Nona Town Center. Children decorated shoeboxes and rode camels, while families listened to live Spanish and holiday music and enjoyed delicious food. In early 2020, Three Kings Day celebrations will also be hosted in various locations around Orlando such as SeaWorld, Old Town, and Gaylord Palms.