As one of the many annual holidays in Mexico,January 6 is known as Dia de los Santos Reyes,or Three Kings Day,which is a very special time that is steeped in longstanding family traditions. Also known among Christians around the world as “Epiphany” or “Little Christmas,” Dia de los Santos Reyes marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the arrival of the three wise men – or kings – with gifts for the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
In Mexico,this marks a bigger celebration day for families than in the U.S. or Europe,and children are given presents based on their character (naughty or nice) over the previous year. While Christmas itself is often viewed as more of a religious holiday,Dia de los Santos Reyes is marked by a wide variety of festivities across Mexico. This includes community parades and celebrations,as well as baking the holiday staple Rosca de Reyes,or Kings’ Bread – often with a small figurine of the baby Jesus inside.
Much like children in the U.S. write to Santa Claus,in Mexico children write to the Wise Men – sometimes only to their favorite one – asking for presents. In many parts of the country,children can also get their pictures taken with the Three Kings of the Orient,or leave food offerings out for them to enjoy while dropping off presents. Then on the night of January 5,figurines representing the Three Wise Men are finally added to family nativity scenes throughout the country and gifts are hidden for children to find in the morning.
Later,families often gather to enjoy an early evening dinner known as Merienda de Reyes,which has developed into a multicultural event over the centuries since the Spaniards first brought the tradition to the New World. Along with the Rosca de Reyes,tamales made of corn (a pre-Hispanic food) and hot chocolate will be served. Dia de los Santos Reyes is still not the official end of the Mexican Christmas season,which will happen on Candle Mass Day February 2,when families will put their nativity scenes away until the following winter and gather for a special mass and family dinner.
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