Today is La Fiesta de los Reyes Magos, the Feast of the Three Kings. Now, you are probably saying, “wait, wait, today is the Feast of the Epiphany!” Well, uhm, yes you would be completely correct, and in church that is the feast that is being celebrated. However, in popular Latino culture, the practice is a little different.
In Latino families that keep the old customs, this is the day when we remember the Three Kings bringing gifts to the Christ child. In a sense, it does go with the Epiphany. The Epiphany is the feast which remembers the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Baptism. In the Feast of the Three Kings, Our Lord Jesus is revealed as a King of Kings by the obeisance of three other Kings. Just like the Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings speaks of making it clear that Jesus is more than what he seems.
But, it is also a time that the children love. A couple of days before the feast, children write letters to their favorite king asking for what presents they would like to receive. Finally, in the eve of the feast, on the 5th of January, the images of the Three Kings are added to the Nativity scene that every family would have. By this time, the excitement of the children is at fever pitch. In some families, hay is put out for the camels of the kings, and cookies and milk for the kings themselves.
It used to be that children would receive their gifts only on this day. By now USA culture has spread so deeply into other cultures that even in Spain the children now receive gifts on both days and not just on 6 January. But, originally the Feast of the Nativity was a solemn observance, not a family holiday. The family holiday was today, and the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany were indeed the Twelve Days of Christmas, just like in olden times.
Now being Orthodox, I realize the importance in Orthodoxy of the Feast of the Epiphany. But, there is still plenty of Latino in me. Even while celebrating the Epiphany, I must admit that my mind remembers being a child in Cuba and remembers Los Tres Reyes Magos and remembers the excitement and, yes, the gifts. And so, with apologies to my father confessor, I hope that you had a wonderful Feast of the Three Kings.