Día de los Reyes: Celebrating Epiphany in the Hispanic World

Christianity is extremely prevelent across the Spanish-speaking world as a result of Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Conquest took place in a Golden Age of Spanish History, and in the Barroque period of the 17th Century, many famous Spanish artists returned to depictions of religious scenes and images in their work. Epiphany and the Adoration of the Magi was a particularly popular focus for Barroque artists. Adoración de los Reyes (1619) by Diego de Velazquez and the work of his contemporary, Peter Paul Rubens,  The Adoration of the Magi (1609), can both be seen in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

The Adoration of the Magi
Adoración de los Reyes Magos, Diego Velazquez

Whilst Epiphany – the day that the Three Wise Men are said to have arrived in Bethlehem to bring gifts to the baby Jesus – is celebrated throughout the Christian community, it is of particular importance in Hispanic culture. In 1885, the Spanish government called for a parade to mark the very special holiday. By the late 19th Century, most of the Spanish-speaking world had achieved independence from Spain, and it is thought that this is just one of the acts of government calling for a renewed sense of Spanish nationalism, rooted in traditional and religious values. However, the processions and festivities of the religious holiday became a prominent part of culture across Latin America, with only small changes made to the Spanish celebrations.

Throughout Spain, Mexico and much of Latin America, January 6th is the day upon which children receive their Christmas presents. Children in Latin America and Spain receive the majority of their gifts from the Three Kings, rather than from Santa Claus, and before going to bed, children traditionally place their old shoes in a place where the Kings can see them, ready to be filled with gifts by the wise men; In the morning, Hispanic children find thier shoes filled with toys and gifts, as many children would on Christmas Day.

Festivities officially begin the day before La Adoración de los Reyes Magos. On January 5th, in towns and cities, Spanish and Latin American families head to the streets to get a glimpse of the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (also known as the Bajada de Reyes in parts of South America, such as Peru), a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. Amidst dancers, musicians, and puppeteers, the Kings ride on camels or elaborate carnival floats throwing gifts of candy and sweets to the children in the street.

During Día de Los Reyes, Hispanic families serve Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake. “Rosca” means wreath and “reyes” means kings. The Rosca de Reyes has an oval shape to symbolize a crown and has a figurine inside. In Spain there will be two plastic-wrapped figurines inside the cake: a faba bean and a small king. Whoever gets the slice of the cake with the small king is the “king” or “queen” of the banquet. As a result, this person will have good luck for the rest of the year. On the other hand, whoever finds the faba bean has to pay for the roscón! Meanwhile, in Mexico, a small doll is found in the middle of the fruit-loaf crown, which represents the baby Jesus and symbolises his hiding from King Herod’s troops.  Traditionally, roscas are adorned with dried and candied fruits to symbolize the many jewels that a crown would have and/or the precious gems that may have adorend the wise men’s clothing (although in Rubens’ painting, only one of the magi appears to be wearing anything that resembles jewels).

La Adoración de los Magos
The Adoration of the Magi, Peter Paul Rubens

What are your thought on Día de los Reyes? Feel free to comment your thoughts below, and thank you for reading!