Three Kings Day: The Twelfth Day of Christmas, with cake

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While many young children begin counting down the seconds till Christmas no later than Nov. 1, children from other countries look forward to a different holiday: the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Officially called the Epiphany, the holiday is often referred to as Three Kings Day because it commemorates the arrival of the three kings, or magi, to visit Jesus. While many of the traditions associated with it echo those of Christmas, the celebration of Three Kings Day has some fascinating traditions of its own.

Celebrants of Three Kings Day eat a cake, which typically contains a small token of some kind, and presents or sweets are distributed by the three kings themselves. Each country shares some of these general traditions, but they put their own spin on the celebration.

In Spain, Three Kings Day is celebrated on Jan. 6 with a parade. The three kings — Gasper, Melchior, and Balthazar — march through the city accompanied by a procession that dresses to evoke each kings’ place of origin, as the kings throw candy to children. The Spanish cakes, called roscones, are baked with a small figurine and a fava bean inside. Whoever finds the figurine is king or queen for the evening while whoever gets the fava bean has to buy the cake next year.

In Mexico, children write letters to the magi, similar to how Americans write letters to Santa. Then, they attach them to helium balloons and send them skyward. Along with their shoes, children leave hay and water for the camels and snacks for the three kings at night. The next morning, they find presents under their shoes, and families eat the roscón. Unlike in Spain, the person that finds the figurine has to throw a party for the other guests.

In Poland, those who celebrate Three Kings Day also bake cakes that contain either a coin or an almond. Finding the token is considered lucky; the winner is allowed to wear a crown. Different regions of Poland prepare distinct cakes, ranging from French-type puff pastries to light fruitcakes.

The majority of the United States largely overlooks Three Kings Day. However, the traditions associated with it, while reminiscent of Christmas, are colorful and unique.